— Kendall Harmon (@KendallHarmon6) July 3, 2018
The funeral board, which oversees discipline, is dominated by people who work in the funeral business. By law, nine of its 11 members must be licensed funeral directors and embalmers. The remaining two slots are reserved for public representatives, but those seats often sit vacant. On at least one occasion, a part-time funeral worker served as the public’s voice on the panel.
This guild of peers includes members and former leaders of South Carolina’s funeral industry associations. It rarely revokes or suspends a license, preferring to levy reprimands and light fines that keep problem operators in business. Even when licenses are pulled, no one checks to make sure those disciplined are abiding by the rules unless someone files a formal complaint.
What’s more, nearly 40 percent of the 600 complaints filed against funeral homes and their operators were dismissed between 2006 and 2017 with no action taken, according to labor department records.
That doesn’t surprise Joshua Slocum, who leads the national Funeral Consumer Alliance, a Vermont-based nonprofit that fights for transparency and funeral affordability. He said most states have models similar to South Carolina’s, with funeral boards dominated by funeral professionals. It’s an opaque system rigged to benefit the death industry, concealing misdeeds and leaving consumers in the dark, he said.
“It’s an outrage against public policy and a clear, no-gray-area conflict of interest,” he said. “The system may be legal, but it’s inherently corrupt.”
South Carolina’s funeral board is ensconced in the state’s labor and licensing agency, one of some 40 professional boards that oversee more than 400,000 licenses for everything from architects and accountants to foot doctors. Most of these boards also are dominated by insiders from their respective industries.