Son regrets using funeral home shut by state: 'If I had only known'

George Rainey turned to Swansons Funeral Home in Flint when his 101-year-old father died in October — a move he now regrets.  

The 77-year-old Lansing man said he paid to have his dad cremated, then got the runaround as he waited to get the ashes.

The state shut down Swansons earlier this month amid allegations of “deplorable” conditions, which has prompted new worries from some who used its services.

“I’m kind of concerned if I even have the right ashes,” Rainey told the Free Press, explaining “that’s a heck of a feeling.”

►Read more: Funeral home shutdown for deplorable health, occupational code violations

Rainey said he chose Swansons in Flint to handle the cremation of his father, Earl Field, after seeing advertising for the funeral home.

“If I had only known what I was getting into, I would have definitely went somewhere else without any hesitation at all,” he said.   

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) suspended the license of the funeral home as well as the mortuary science license of the funeral home's manager, O'Neil Swanson II, on July 12 because of multiple health and occupational code violations.

Officials said issues at the facility included unrefrigerated bodies stored for months, a strong stench of decomposition at the home and maggots in the garage.

Swanson II, 56, of West Bloomfield, and his lawyer have not responded to repeated requests for comment. 

The Flint funeral home is not connected to funeral homes in Detroit and Pontiac operated by Swanson II’s father, O'Neil Swanson. The elder Swanson said in a statement released earlier this month that the allegations made against the Flint funeral home “go against every principle of mortuary science.”

Swansons in Flint offered low-priced cremations. Its website lists a cremation without a ceremony for $695, a price other funeral home directors said is extremely low.

“I don’t know how they do it for that,” said Rick Lamb, president of Swartz Funeral Home in Flint.

His funeral home is among those helping people affected by the sudden closure of Swansons.

Swartz donated a service for a 66-year-old woman whose body was at Swansons funeral home when it was shuttered. Employees there felt bad for the woman’s family — already distraught at losing a family member before the situation with the funeral home unfolded — and offered to help.

“It’s just something that we wanted to do to try alleviate some of their problems,” Lamb said.

It's unclear what will happen next with Swansons Funeral Home.

Officials with the Michigan Attorney General's Office declined to say if a criminal investigation is under way, and officials with LARA declined to say how many families were thrust into limbo after the closure, citing the ongoing investigation. 

A complaint shows issues at the funeral home reported by various people dating back several years. Jason Moon, a spokesman for LARA, declined to comment on the amount of time the business remained opened after initial complaints.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) inspected the Flint funeral home six times between June 14, 2012, and Sept. 21, 2016, "verifying serious and repeated violations of standards and laws it enforces," the complaint said.

Michigan Funeral Directors Association President Eugene Wagner said he found the allegations "sickening and intolerable." 

“The MFDA applauds the state for the actions that they’ve taken," he said. "We are 100% in support of what they have done to have them cease operations.”

Wagner said the association represents about 500 funeral homes and about 1,200 funeral directors in Michigan. Swansons Funeral Home was not a member, he said.

Rainey, the Lansing man who had his father cremated last year, explained the ordeal he went through with Swansons Funeral Home after his father's death. He estimated he called Swansons five-six times during a couple-week period inquiring about his father's ashes. 

He got the ashes shortly before a memorial honoring his father. It happened after he told funeral home officials he was going to get an attorney involved if he didn’t get them, Rainey said.

“My big concern,” he said. “Do I have my father or don’t I?”

Customers who used Swansons Funeral Home in Flint and have questions or concerns can contact the Corporations, Securities & Commercial Licensing Bureau at 517-241-7000.

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© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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