Cape Breton crematorium licence suspended after body mix-up

·3 min read
The province has suspended the crematorium licence at Forest Haven Memorial Gardens near Sydney, N.S., for two months after the wrong body was cremated last December. (Matthew Moore/CBC - image credit)
The province has suspended the crematorium licence at Forest Haven Memorial Gardens near Sydney, N.S., for two months after the wrong body was cremated last December. (Matthew Moore/CBC - image credit)

A Cape Breton funeral home has had its crematorium licence suspended after a hospital gave out the wrong body and the funeral home failed to ensure it had the right one.

In a written decision on Thursday, Nova Scotia's registrar of embalmers and funeral directors said a security guard at Cape Breton Regional Hospital mixed up two bodies last December, but Forest Haven Memorial Gardens was also at fault.

"This is a devastating incident and a family should not have to go through this because of mistakes that could have been avoided if Forest Haven followed the requirements under the [Embalmers and Funeral Directors Act]," the registrar said.

Under the legislation, funeral homes are required to have a documented standardized process ensuring that every person transporting human remains is satisfied of the identity of the remains on pickup and delivery.

The registrar said at its hearing in March, Forest Haven failed to provide evidence of a written process.

It also said the funeral home made two errors in not ensuring its delivery company, Compassionate Body Removal Services, checked the body identification at the hospital and not ensuring its funeral director checked the body at the crematorium.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

The funeral home is allowed to continue carrying out cemetery activities, such as selling lots and laying headstones, but cannot operate its crematorium for two months starting April 28.

Dave Wilton, owner of the funeral home and the body delivery service, was not immediately available for comment.

According to the decision, Wilton told the hearing Forest Haven uses a computer program to document the process, but the registrar said that is not the same as a written process.

Last month, the Nova Scotia Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors revoked the licence of Forest Haven's funeral director, Joe Curry, over the cremation mix-up.

In its decision, the registrar said it does not have jurisdiction over the hospital.

Nova Scotia's health authority has said it is conducting a quality review of the incident, but has not said if that is complete or what was found.

"This was an incredibly unfortunate situation that Nova Scotia Health took very seriously," the province said in an email late Thursday.

"A quality review is conducted any time there is a serious event involving Nova Scotia Health services. This is a confidential process focused on learning and improvements specific to Nova Scotia Health.

"Our thoughts and condolences go out to the family for the error that occurred involving their family member."

'Lengthier suspension warranted'

The last time a body was wrongly cremated in Nova Scotia, the government tightened up the legislation to emphasize the responsibility of funeral homes, funeral directors and embalmers to ensure continuous identification of human remains.

In that instance, Serenity Funeral Home in Berwick, N.S., lost its crematorium licence for a month.

After that, a section was added to the legislation specifically to place an onus on the funeral home licence holder.

The registrar said a "lengthier suspension is warranted" for Forest Haven, given the earlier Berwick case happened before changes to the legislation.

The province said Forest Haven's crematorium licence can be reinstated at the end of June, but only if it provides written confirmation of a continuous body identification process.

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