Above: Morris-Baker Funeral Home owner Preston McKee with his wife Shuly Cawood. Morris-Baker has taken steps to continue safely serving families during the COVID-19 outbreak. PHOTO BY DAVE ONGIE
By Dave Ongie, News Editor
It may seem like life has come to a grinding halt during this time of social distancing, but there are still a few aspects of life that pay no heed to current events. The death of a loved one, for instance, is an unexpected blow many folks will endure even in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
With that in mind, Preston McKee of Morris-Baker Funeral Home has been hard at work over a month streamlining new computer software and refining his company’s protocol in an effort to keep serving families grieving the loss of a loved one in the midst of a pandemic.
“We’ve been working on that for weeks, and we’re very fortunate these tools we’ve been developing to support families during regular times have really shown their value during this current time with the coronavirus,” McKee said.
As social distancing initiatives put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus began to take hold last week, McKee took part in several webinars through the National Funeral Director’s Association to ensure that Morris-Baker could remain equipped to host funeral services while adhering to the recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). According to McKee, Morris-Baker’s new policies are a blend of proactive safety measures for those who visit the funeral home and online options for those who wish to virtually plan or attend a service.
When it comes to planning a service, McKee says it is especially important in the current climate for folks to reach out to their funeral director as early as possible to begin formulating a realistic plan for a service given social distancing guidelines.
‘Things are changing rapidly, but there are certain things in life that the longer you wait to talk about them, the more difficult they get,” McKee said. “The sooner they are able to consult a professional, the more likely they are to have a better experience.”
In recent years, Morris-Baker has set up technology to make it possible for folks to plan services over the phone or online. McKee said those options have evolved to accommodate families that are now more spread out due to relocation, but those methods are proving to be very useful in our present situation.
“It’s all there for general convenience, but in times like this when we’re trying to mitigate a pandemic, it’s really turned out to be very valuable,” he said.
Those at high risk of suffering complications from COVID-19 or unable to travel to the area can plan services remotely and even have the option of watching the service online via Morris-Baker’s website. Of course, it is still possible for individuals to plan and attend funeral services in person at Morris-Baker, and the staff is going the extra mile to make that as safe as possible.
“The guidelines for now are for typical cleaning, but we’re going above our normal processes,” McKee said. “We have ramped up the hand sanitizer at our facility.”
McKee said the staff is also working to eliminate common touchpoints. A staff member has always opened the front door for guests, and those planning services now have the option of either forgoing a guest book or having a member of Morris-Baker’s staff designated to sign in each guest to limit the number of people handling the guest book and pen.
McKee said a large chapel allows folks to spread out while attending services, and a separate family area is available in the chapel. Special disinfecting agents are also being used regularly at common touchpoints inside the facility.
In the days and weeks ahead, McKee said everyone in the funeral service industry will continue to adjust in order to help people plan and hold meaningful services.
“For a long time I’ve called funeral service a business, but it’s a business with a social conscience,” McKee said. “I think that’s how we all have to think about it in our lives as well, in the sense of taking care of our needs, but at the same time, with a social conscience.
“It’s just important to attend to our needs that are truly human, but at the same time, being mindful of the potential risk to others. There can be creative ways to have a meaningful experience. It might just be a little different just to be sure we keep our people that are higher-risk safe.”