Counties see rise in indigent cremations
Economic difficulties are hitting folks hard, even in death. In 2009 the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office is on track to handle around about 700 cremations of unclaimed persons, an increase of about 25 percent. The county also reports more families are seeking financial assistance to bury or cremate their loved ones. "We're always going to have a segment of the population that winds up having to utilize county assistance," said Prudencio Vallejo, manager of unclaimed bodies for the medical examiner's office. Vallejo's job is to make final arrangements for people who have nobody else. To be eligible for a county-funded cremation, families need to prove eligibility, according to Ron Mees, owner of Florida Mortuary, which contracts with Hillsborough County for end-of-life services."You have to prove you have no money," he said. It's a similar procedure in Pinellas County, said Nathan Hobson, funeral director of A Life Tribute Funeral Care. Hobson said to qualify, families need to fill out an application stating their income and assets. He said people are increasingly saying they can't afford to bury their loved ones. "They have no money to live everyday life, let alone when something happens in death; it's unexpected," Hobson said. In Pinellas and Pasco counties, cremations of indigent and unclaimed bodies were up 20 percent in 2008 from 2007. Hobson said his company and the county work together to find next of kin. "We put an obit in the paper that has a name, place of death and when they died in the hopes someone will come forward," Hobson said. After about a week, the county cremates the unclaimed body, then holds the remains for 120 days. After that, the remains are scattered in the Gulf of Mexico. Both Pinellas and Hillsborough used to provide indigent burial services. In recent years both counties switched to cremation, offering burial services only for honorably discharged veterans.