More unclaimed bodies at county morgue

Relatives of deceased can’t be found or can’t afford services.

A record number of bodies were indigent and unclaimed at the Montgomery County Morgue in 2014, pushing up costs for taxpayers who foot the bill when poor people die and their next of kin do not accept the bodies for disposition.

The morgue last year handled twice as many indigent and unclaimed bodies as it did four years earlier.

The cost of disposition to taxpayers varies by jurisdiction. The city of Dayton pays about $690 per cremation, and it spent almost $100,000 on cremations last year.

Many people who die have no assets and little or no income, and often their relatives do not want or cannot handle the financial responsibility of cremation or burial.

“The economy certainly is a big part of it,” said Larry Glickler, owner of the Glickler Funeral Home in Dayton. “People who once had enough money to do this now just can’t even afford a simple cremation because they’re on fixed incomes or have no income.”

People who would have wanted traditional funeral services or burial often do not get their final wishes honored because of a lack of funds.

In 2014, about 186 bodies were indigent or unclaimed at the county morgue, which was an increase of 19 percent from the prior year, according to the Montgomery County Coroner’s office.

Indigent means the deceased had little or no income or assets. Bodies are unclaimed when next of kin cannot be identified.

The number of unclaimed and indigent deceased people at the morgue has been climbing, up from 92 in 2010.

“Prior to 2010, it had been lower than that,” said Michael Fox, chief investigator with the Montgomery County Coroner’s office. “It has been increasing almost every year.”

And the actual number of indigent in the county is significantly higher than the coroners’ numbers.

Some people who have no money or assets die at hospice or in hospitals or residential settings, and their bodies are taken directly to the funeral home. When this happens, the coroner’s office does not get involved.

The Glickler Funeral Home estimates it handled about 250 indigent cremations last year. The business does the vast majority of indigent cremations in the county.

Fox said most of the indigent and unclaimed dead at the county morgue come from the city of Dayton, including 115 last year.

The city of Dayton last year paid for 139 indigent cremations, at a cost of about $94,797, said Romona Carver, the city’s facilities manager.

The city spent about $25,000 on such cremations in the mid-2000s, but the number of indigent increases every year, because many people are poor and many die of drug overdoses, Carver said.

“It’s a really sad situation,” she said. “Many people don’t have incomes or have people to claim them.”

In nearly all cases, officials are able to locate the relatives of the deceased using medical, government and other electronic records. But relatives do not always accept responsibility for the dead.

Sometimes, surviving family members are estranged from the deceased and want nothing to do with their final arrangements. Some of the indigent deceased are drug addicts or homeless people with no close loved ones.

Costs often play a role when family members refuse to take ownership of the deceased.

Many have low-paying jobs and no savings, assets or insurance.

“Most (of the indigent deceased) have family identified but remain unclaimed as they simply do not have the funds or chose not to use limited funds for the burial, etc.,” said Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger.

When the dead have no money or assets, and their family members refuse responsibility for their bodies, the cities and township where they died must pay disposition costs.

The vast majority of jurisdictions only pay for cremation for the indigent, with no exceptions for religious or personal preference. The city of Dayton pays about $690 per cremation.

But many family members and loved ones would pay for funeral services and other arrangements if they could afford it, Glickler said.

Cremation continues to grow in popularity, but some people still prefer traditional burials, and many people still would prefer to have funeral services, Glickler said.

“It’s extremely sad,” Glickler said. “These are people who would want something different than a direct cremation … the majority of people would prefer some kind of service, maybe a casket and a different kind of send-off.”

Family members are encouraged to take the cremated remains of the indigent, and most do so. It costs taxpayers to place and keep the remains in storage.

At the Woodlawn Cemetery in Dayton, the cremated remains are kept in a vault in the office, said Debra Mescher, office manager at Woodland Cemetery.

If the remains are not picked up, typically after a couple years, they are moved into permanent storage, Mescher said. Ashes placed in permanent storage seldom are retrieved.

Cities pick up the bill when poor people die because state law ensures that everyone is entitled to a dignified disposition, officials said.

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