The only way the one funeral home in Prince Rupert will move a body is to and from the morgue, to Terrace to the crematorium, or to the cemetery. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)

This B.C. city has no service to transport the dead

BC Emergency Health Services will temporarily transfer bodies from the home to the hospital

There is one funeral home within 140 km of Prince Rupert, with one licensed funeral director in his 60s, who made the decision a year ago that he could no longer transport the deceased — there simply weren’t enough resources.

“We’re just a tiny, independent funeral home,” said Sheril Macrae, who is the only other full-time employee, along with Jim Ferguson, at Ferguson Funeral Home Ltd.

It takes the pair 80 hours to provide funeral services for one person. When Ferguson provided body transportation services he was on call all hours of the day. After 40 years, he couldn’t do it anymore and Macrae notified the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital of their decision.

“A year ago, we called the people who we thought would get the message across, but somehow the message didn’t get down the pipe,” Macrae said.

Then last Sunday, at 5 a.m., she received a call from someone requesting their body removal services after BC Ambulance Service paramedics said it was not within their duties to take a deceased man to the hospital. She had to turn them down.

“It’s upsetting to us that this miscommunication is happening,” she said.

This was the second incident since January.

READ MORE: B.C. paramedics to be trained in at-home care for seriously ill, end-of-life patients

In Prince Rupert there is no service to take people who die of natural causes in their home to the morgue.

After the two most recent incidents in the city, BC Emergency Health Services has stepped in to fill the void, calling the situation “exceptional.”

“We are currently fulfilling that role on an interim basis in Prince Rupert where it is our understanding there are no readily available transport services for the deceased,” said Shannon Miller, communications officer with BC Emergency Health Services.

“This is a temporary measure until Northern Health is able to establish with the Ministry of Health, BC Coroner and local funeral services a permanent option.”

READ MORE: For the end of life a community comes together

Typically, the only time a paramedic will move a body is when a patient dies inside the ambulance on the way to the hospital; when they’re under the direction of a police officer and a coroner to remove a body from a public place; or when there is no other readily available removal service.

For the time being, paramedics will transport the deceased in the city, but Miller stresses that 911 medical emergency calls will take priority.

Be prepared

With expected, planned home deaths, Northern Health and Ferguson Funeral Home want residents to have a plan in place so they’re prepared for body removal, and it’s not a total shock when the moment comes.

Before the ambulance service stepped up there was no other way to move a body from a home to the hospital morgue unless an authorized next of kin did it themselves.

In 2006, the province issued a protocol for planned home deaths to make sure the procedures were laid out clearly. Police or ambulance services shouldn’t be contacted with anticipated deaths at home, the local funeral home should be aware and authorization should be in place before the person dies.

Legally, funeral homes need this authorization to remove the body. Families shouldn’t wait longer than four to six hours to transfer the body to the morgue. Ferguson Funeral Home doesn’t have a morgue, so it utilizes the hospital’s.

The legal authorization form includes a line that the funeral home will be used for transport. But what happens when that service isn’t available?

“We are involved in discussions with community partners including BC Emergency Health Services, and funeral providers and the coroner is involved in the discussion… We’re looking to develop solutions on how to transport human remains when it’s an expected death. Yes, EHS is going to play this role as a temporary measure until a more clear permanent process can be worked out,” said Eryn Collins, communications manager for Northern Health.

The nearest funeral home, MacKay’s Funeral Service Ltd. in Terrace, offers after-hours body removal services from the hospital and they have provided the service to Prince Rupert.

Unnatural deaths

Another body removal service recently posted a job in Prince Rupert.

Starting April 1, CAML-Dah Danesdih Transportation Services is looking for two employees to do scene removal. This is an on-call position for all hours of the day, with a starting salary of $20-25 an hour. The Smithers-based company is taking over a contract for the area that includes Prince Rupert, Terrace, Hazelton, Burns Lake, all the way to the Yukon.

“You will be required to attend scenes which may be graphic in nature, i.e. traffic accidents,” the post reads.

Training and equipment will be provided, and everything dealt with on the job must be kept confidential.

“We do work with body removal companies to remove [the deceased] in a respectful and dignified way,” confirmed Andy Watson, spokesperson for the BC Coroners Service.

When asked if this service could be extended to natural deaths, Watson said the coroner has no jurisdiction in circumstances in a home death when it’s expected and natural.

For natural deaths, Macrae said it is very sad this is happening now. “Calm and peaceful, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

To report a typo, email: editor@thenorthernview.com.


Shannon Lough | Editor
Shannon Lough 
Send Shannon email
Like the The Northern View on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

High-volume littering at Cape Scott draws ire from hiking groups

Popular Vancouver Island hiking spot not closing, but frustration about crowding grows

Kwa’lilas Hotel wins award from TripAdvisor

The Kwa’lilas Hotel opened its doors to the public back in 2017.

Three active COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island

Since July 24, Central island has had five new cases, North one, South none

Alert Bay tested for COVID-19 antibodies, results prove efforts were effective

Just 3.7 per cent of people tested have the antibody

BC Parks acquires private land in Cape Scott Provincial Park

Land previously held by B.C. land and cattle mogul Rudy Nielsen

B.C. records new COVID-19 death, 85 more cases; Horgan calls on celebrity help

This brings the total number of active confirmed cases to 531 across the province

Horvat scores 2 as Vancouver Canucks beat Blues 5-2 in NHL playoff opener

Game 2 in best-of-seven series goes Friday night

Old-growth forest defenders in Campbell River call for B.C. forest minister’s resignation

Protestors outside North Island MLA’s office ask government to stop old-growth logging

Teachers to get 2 extra days to prepare for students’ return, now set for Sept. 10

Students will first start with orientation and learn rules of COVID-19 classroom policies

SFU to drop ‘Clan’ varsity team name

The ‘Clan’ name is shortened from ‘Clansmen,’ and was introduced roughly 55 years ago

New Tory leader must build a strong team in Commons and for the campaign: Scheer

Scheer marked his final day in the House of Commons today as leader of the Opposition

B.C. to hire 500 more COVID-19 contact tracers ahead of fall

Contract tracers add an ‘extra layer’ in the fight against the novel coronavirus

More than $800,000 in suspected cocaine seized from ship near Victoria

RCMP Dive Team suspects more narcotics had been stored below ship’s waterline

Feds commit $305M in additional funds for Indigenous communities during COVID-19

Money can be used to battle food insecurity and support children and mental health

Most Read