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Virus, homicides, drugs put strains on funeral homes

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The director of the Alabama Board of Funeral Service says businesses across the state have been reaching out for advice on how to handle the large volume of recent deaths due to COVID-19 and other causes.

“Funeral homes don’t always operate on regular business hours,” Charles Perine told “However, to the point that you are having to run the crematorium around the clock, that is unique.”

Some funeral businesses report adding extra cremation shifts to handle the extra load.

There is no precise count yet on how many people in Alabama died from the virus. But hospitalizations have set new highs throughout the month. And Alabama in January watched the total deaths from the pandemic cross 5,000 and then keep climbing to pass 6,000.

Homicides and drug overdoses also surged last year, adding to an unprecedented death toll.

Glennis Points is a manager at the Patterson-Forest Grove Funeral Home, which cremates remains for other funeral homes around Pleasant Grove. He said the crematory usually ran from about 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. prior to the pandemic.

“Now we are working until 3 a.m. most nights and starting back up again around 8 in the morning,” Points said.

Patterson said the funeral home also has struggled to obtain the concrete vaults that hold and protect buried caskets.

Arlillian Kate Bushelon, manager of Bushelon Funeral Home in Birmingham, said casket companies have also reported shortages and asked her to call ahead before ordering.

“Last week, we waited on 20 families, where it had typically been five to ten a week prior to the pandemic,” Bushelon said.

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