After racking up complaint after complaint for over five years, Swanson’s Funeral Home in Flint, Michigan, is finally being closed by authorities. A huge unanswered question remains, how could such horrible atrocities be allowed to continue this long?
According to one yellow pages reviewer familiar with the established mortuary, “My step-father was buried from there years ago. The facility was clean and well maintained. The staff was well dressed and professional. What a difference 10 yrs has made!”
Swanson’s has been making families prepay for services even though they are not registered to accept prepayment. They also never registered as a producer of medical waste, allowing for its proper disposal. Those charges are just the tip of the iceberg on this shocking story. To make it worse, the government watchdogs meant to protect the public health and safety did virtually nothing time and time again as an increasingly dangerous set of problems grew worse over time.
The occupational safety complaints started in March of 2012 with reports of unsanitary conditions in the embalming room, lack of training on safety and proper procedures to protect employees from disease and exposure to formaldehyde. Workers were exposed to 100 percent concentrations of formaldehyde with no exhaust fan, trash cans had no bags and gloves were being re-used. Workers were exposed to diseases like Hepatitis B with no training, protective gear or vaccinations. Similar reports were entered in April, May, and June of 2012. After the fourth complaint, a fine of $4,000 was issued, but no follow up happened to ensure the violations were corrected.
In January of 2013 another complaint was received reporting ventilation was still non-existent and “bodies are not handled in a sanitary fashion.” The report noted the bio-waste hazards had been a “pattern for 7 years now, 9 employees + general public.” Nothing was done at all for over two more years.
In February of 2015 the facility was again reported for “Improper storage facilities for human remains,” along with ventilation and other issues virtually copied over from previous complaints. After six months, a citation was written for $22,000 which is still under appeal.
MIOSHA took a seventh complaint against Swanson’s on September 25, 2015, which was filed by another local mortician who had come to claim a body. “This establishment needs to be shut down immediately!!! The garage is consistently filled with human remains in varying stages of decomposition. These decomposing bodies emit foul odors into our community and is very unhealthy for nearby residents.”
Bodies are described as “everywhere on floor in boxes. You can see fluids and flies and maggots.” The gloves being used by staff were reported to be the same ones restaurant workers use. “He runs scam on people that trust him offering $495 cremation service requiring payment before removal. He’s paid and loved ones are picked up then held at a funeral home garage until they rot away. Then he rents a U-haul and loads them all up and transfers them to anther location to continue to rot away…”
They try to cover the overpowering stench with “cheap aerosol spray freshener and burning incense.” The mailman and Fed-Ex has threatened to stop delivery. “There are two bodies in the garage that have yet to be embalmed or cremated since 2014.”
After taking another year to look into the matter, in September of 2016 four complaints were filed. The funeral home hired Michigan’s former attorney general, Mike Cox, to represent them. He denies any wrong doing. “These allegations are just that – allegations. We fully intend to address all the concerns of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs in the proper forum,” the statement said. “In the meantime, Swanson’s will focus on doing what we have done for 2 generations — providing comfort to Flint families as they deal with the loss of a loved one.” All four of the pending open complaints have been combined with the most recent filing of new charges.
Despite the ever growing legal pressure, even if there were no significant penalties, Swanson’s did nothing to change their ways.
“I told them ‘that ain’t our mama,'” Maurice Dunn told local reporters. Dunn trusted his departed mother to Swanson’s in April of this year. When the family arrived to pay their last respects, they were shocked to discover “a total stranger dressed in the clothing that my brother Joey [picked out] and the wig selected for our mother.” When they told staff there had been a mix-up, employees denied it. “The funeral staff insisted that it was our mother and that a name band is the reason why he knew it was our mother.” The correct corpse was eventually located, probably out in the garage.
When State Investigator Marshall Ogan read the news story of the mixed up bodies, he made an unannounced inspection on May 15. Swanson was not there at the time but employees led Ogan to the garage where he found “five cardboard cremation containers” containing bodies that had been stored more than 72 hours, with at least one there since April 20. Only one of the five had been embalmed and one of the un-embalmed ones had died on February 3. Conditions in the embalming room were again disgusting.