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Funeral services call on students and retirees to alleviate staff shortages

In a move described as “unprecedented,” the death care industry is calling students and retirees into service to fill out its ranks due to staffing shortages brought on by the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

“It’s pretty remarkable, I never seen such things in my life,” said Funeral Director Joe O’Neil, who operates O’Neil Funeral Home in London, Ont.

O’Neil said he believes an exodus from the funeral industry actually began one year ago, when those employed in the funeral business were so far down the list to qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine, than many walked away.

“We were literally walking into houses, homes, hospitals to pick up somebody who had died of COVID-19,” he explained. “Especially in the home, you’re surrounded by people coughing and hacking who all have COVID-19, and we we’re told ‘oh no you’re not important enough to get a shot,’ so I had a couple of really good part time people who just quit and left the funeral service altogether and said ‘all the money in the world won’t bring me back to this.’”

He added that he can’t help but wonder how many across Ontario left the business for that very reason.

But now, much like other industries and professions, Omicron has exacerbated a staffing shortage.

The Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) is calling retirees into service to fill out vacancies and for the first time, it’s allowing college students to work in the industry before they have completed their studies.Program Co-ordinator & Professor, Funeral Service Education Programs Faculty of Health Sciences & Wellness, Humber College, Michelle Clarke. (Source: Humber College) Michelle Clarke, the Program Co-ordinator for Funeral Service Education Programs at Humber College, Toronto, said this is a way to make sure Ontario families are served.

“Never have our students been asked to enter the field in a modified internship type capacity this early. So this is an unprecedented situation, but we are extremely grateful that if a funeral home happens to have COVID go through even some of their staff, they at least have backup,”

About 100 students in their second semester at Humber College and College Boreal in Sudbury would qualify to work in the field. Programs are three years in total, with one year classroom theory and two years apprenticeships.

Meanwhile, crematoriums in Ontario are being directed by the BAO to make sure decedents are processed within two days to avoid backlogs.

The authority is directing businesses to expand hours and take other measures in a bid to serve families in a timely manner.

“The Omicron variant is far reaching, so we just want to be ready,” said Clarke. Top Stories

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