Area funeral homes see uptick in services
Last updated 12/22/2020 at 4:29pm
Funeral homes across New Mexico and West Texas have had a 15 to 18 percent increase in services they provide since June, according to Legacy Funeral Group Regional Director Bill Vallie.
About 50 percent of the recent deaths being handled by Legacy in Roswell, Hobbs, and Ruidoso are related to COVID-19, while 80 percent in the West Texas region of Midland and Odessa are COVID-related, according to Vallie, who said Legacy's Clovis location, Steed-Todd Funeral Home, has seen less of an increase but has still been busier than usual.
“It might have been June before we saw our first COVID death in this part of the world,” said Vallie. “Since then, we've had a marked increase. We'd see one (COVID-related death) every so often, maybe one every three weeks. Now, we're seeing (at least) one a day. All of my funeral homes in West Texas used to deal with two to three deaths per week. Now, they deal with eight to nine per week.”
He said a Legacy funeral home in Odessa was serving 20 families at a time at one point.
As a former director of the Texas Funeral Directors Association, Vallie said he has been able to stay in the loop in regard to other funeral homes outside of his company's ownership, and it is his understanding that many funeral homes across the United States have been experiencing the same increase.
“Most of our funeral homes have a large capacity. They can accommodate anywhere from six to eight individuals in their coolers,” Vallie said. He said chapels have also been turned into makeshift morgues after embalming has occurred.
He said despite the increase, the availability of staff members has decreased rather than increased of late.
“Generally, a lot of staff around a funeral home are part-timers, who are 65 years plus, so we actually sent them all home back in April for fear of them getting sick,” Vallie said.
He said all of his funeral homes have decreased their hours of operation, and they try to make as many arrangements as possible over the telephone with clients. Then when clients do come in person, no more than two family members are allowed into the building.
Vallie said with New Mexico restrictions limiting services to five in-person attendees, they have also been live streaming or radio broadcasting services and keeping them shorter than usual.
Scott Reeves, the director of Wheeler Mortuary in Portales, said he's seen a slight increase in services this year compared to the past two years. But he said that is not uncommon, and things have basically been business as usual with the Portales funeral home.
“Roosevelt County the last couple of years has had a lower death rate, and any time that happens, you are going to have catchup,” Reeves said. “If you have a year or two where the death rate is lower, you're going to have a year where it's higher.”
Reeves said a few of the deaths handled by his funeral home this year have been COVID-related, but most of them have not been.
He said Wheeler has been following COVID guidelines by limiting service attendees to five people and has also been compensating by live streaming funeral services and placing the funeral services on the deceased's obituary page.
“It's very unpredictable. To say there is a specific percentage higher or lower this year is difficult, because it varies,” said Reeves. “We have been much, much busier in previous years. It (COVID) has not posed any unusual problems for us.”
Officials of Muffley Funeral Home in Clovis and Ellis Funeral Home in Muleshoe were unavailable for comment.
Through Monday, Curry County had reported 39 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began. Roosevelt County has recorded 21 COVID-related deaths. In Texas, Parmer County has reported 31 COVID-related deaths while Bailey has seen 11, state health officials have reported.