Funeral industry wants 'death care workers' on vaccine priority list
EDMONTON -- With Alberta’s first shipment of vaccines expected to arrive next week, an industry that deals with victims of COVID-19 wants its workers higher on the eligibility list.
The head of the Funeral Service Association of Alberta told CTV News Edmonton he was “surprised” and “disappointed” to learn from Alberta Health that funeral staff, particularly directors, will not be included in Phase 1 of Alberta’s vaccine rollout plan.
Weber said Alberta Health has told him funeral workers will be considered as part of Phase 2.
“We obviously disagree that the funeral professional isn’t considered a frontline worker on this fight but we have no choice other than to accept what we’re being told,” said FSAA president Tyler Weber.
“We are in and out of hospitals on a daily basis and nursing homes, hospices and people’s homes,” he said.
According to AHS, Phase 1 will include respiratory therapists, ICU staff and physicians and some eligible long term care health care workers. Phase 2 is expected to begin in April 2021 and will target “prioritized populations.”
Asked about the matter Friday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the Phase 1 priority groups were chosen based on the “highest risk of severe outcomes.”
“That is exactly where the significant pressure in our system is right now,” said Hinshaw, who added Alberta Health has been asked about vaccination timing for other priority groups such as law enforcement.
“There are many, many groups that can provide critical services and who will be considered in subsequent prioritization of the vaccine.”
Alberta is expecting to receive at least 3,900 doses of the Health Canada-approved Pfizer vaccine before the end of the month and has designated them for 3,900 health care workers.
Weber understands why those included in Phase 1 are there, but with so few in the funeral service profession, he said including the industry would not require a large quantity of vaccinations.
“There is not a lot of funeral directors and we’re talking about maybe 500 to 600 vaccinations and that would cover funeral professionals in Alberta,” said Weber.
Weber said one concern is rural communities being suddenly left without funeral options if a director was forced to isolate and rendered unavailable.
NOT OVERWHELMED, BUT BUSY
Funeral homes across Alberta are busy right now, Weber said, and not just because of COVID-19, though it is a factor.
Park Memorial Funeral Home, located in central Edmonton, said daily inquiries for services have doubled and tripled in recent weeks.
“It normally does get busier at Christmas time but right now it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” said president Kirstie Smolyk.
“Our staff are running in all different directions. There are all kinds of families they have to look after and not just the families that have lost a person due to COVID-19,” she said.
Funeral services in Alberta are limited to 10 people, not including staff, as mandated by current provincial health restrictions.
Smolyk said pre-pandemic, Park Memorial would broadcast funerals via internet live stream an average of once per month. Now the home is averaging 40 funeral lives streams per month.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson