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New report details grisly discoveries at Colorado funeral homes, recommends tougher regulation

New report details grisly discoveries at Colorado funeral homes, recommends tougher regulation
New report details grisly discoveries at Colorado funeral homes, recommends tougher regulation 04:06

A newly released report by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Affairs could lead to big changes in the funeral home industry. The report details nearly 30 cases involving everything mislabeled and unlabeled remains to bodies abandoned, unrefrigerated or improperly embalmed. Some of those cases have resulted in criminal charges.

The Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose. CBS

Two Montrose funeral home operators are in prison for selling body parts, the owner of several mortuaries in Lake County is behind bars for unlawful cremation, and a husband and wife face felony charges after investigators found 190 bodies in various states of decomposition at their Penrose funeral home. But there are also cases where it appears there were no consequences. Regulators say they talked to nearly 100 family members who reported loved ones being physically mistreated, left lying in pools of their own bodily fluids or in unclean trays, missing personal effects and even missing ashes.

Last year, state regulators received more than 60 complaints involving funeral homes and crematories. While they have taken action against the facilities, there is little accountability for those who run them unless there is criminal wrongdoing. Colorado is the only state that doesn't regulate funeral home operators. The report says it should.

"It's already one of the most vulnerable times in somebody's life when you have to bury a loved one or get a loved one cremated. The last thing you're thinking about is, is this business reputable? or can I trust this person with my loved one's remains? and we need to make sure Coloradans can still have that trust," says State Senator Dylan Roberts, who plans to bring a bill to license funeral home directors in Colorado.

While the Colorado Funeral Directors Association supports licensing, not all funeral home operators do.

Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose. CBS

"Families do need to be protected and then do need to have some recourse," says Representative Ty Winter, a third-generation funeral homeowner in Trinidad. 

While he is appalled by incidents like that in Penrose, he says reputable operators shouldn't be punished for the actions of a few bad actors. He says they should be grandfathered in, "You cannot legislate compassion, you cannot legislate ethics, you cannot legislate value, you cannot legislate dignity. And I think that the funeral homes that have proven they can do that should definitely be allowed to stay in business and do what they're doing while trying to find the ones that are the bad actors." 

Roberts says licensing will be easier for established operators, "We will absolutely have a way for those working in the industry to either legacy into the program or be able to get their certification very quickly."

"We think we can find the balance between some level of certification and trust from the public but not hurting small business," said Roberts. 

In addition to requiring licenses for funeral home directors, Roberts may also require some level of training and certification for everyone who works in the industry. Enforcement will be funded in part by fees paid by operators. He also wants background checks. Right now, owners convicted of crimes can continue to operate and there's no way of easily tracking them. The report also noted there are at least seven cases of operators who lost their license in other states working in Colorado.

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