BAO and bereavement professionals met the challenges of 2020 together for everyone’s safety in Ontario

Blog by Carey Smith, CEO/Registrar,
Bereavement Authority of Ontario

We will all remember the year 2020 for challenges we overcame together for the safety of families, staff and for the vital sustainment of the caring and professional bereavement industry.

Licensees ensured that Government of Ontario restrictions and Registrar’s Directives and guidance from the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) were applied across the province while the COVID-19 pandemic dominated our lives expanding significantly as the year closed out.

As Registrar, my job with the BAO team on this exceptional adversity was to make sure we had the right restrictions in place at the right time to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among the public and bereavement sector staff, while supporting licensees in making these rules a reality.

This meant attention to provincial infection and death rate numbers, and international trends that forecasted our future, so that we could develop and issue timely and proactive Registrar’s Directives, Notices and guidance to more than 5,300 personal and business licensees.

It also meant having our BAO inspectors visiting hot spots in Ontario to make sure restrictions were being followed, plus providing frequent licensee webinars to inform them and reinforce the importance of the Directives and government restrictions.

Our work focused heavily on prevention of infection in any bereavement sector establishment or wherever funeral services take place – regardless of the venue.

Thankfully, our licensees shared our view on protecting families, staff and public confidence in the bereavement sector. The continued operation of funeral homes, transfer services, cemeteries, crematoriums and hydrolysis establishments has been vital to preventing the stockpiling of bodies – which occurred in Italy, Spain, the US and elsewhere.

Proactive approach

Protecting the public and bereavement staff meant thinking and acting proactively before issues such as stockpiling could arise in Canada’s most populous province.

That proactive approach included our own innovative work in writing and implementing the Expedited Death Response (EDR) with the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario. The EDR was implemented on April 14 mandating that deaths in hospitals and long-term care (LTC) facilities would receive swift action from funeral homes and/or transfer services. Funeral staff met the challenging timeline of removing decedents for disposition within one hour of receiving a call from an LTC and three hours from a hospital.

We introduced and explained the EDR to licensees in a live webinar on Good Friday, April 10. As a testament to their commitment, more than 2,100 licensees were on the live webinar on the statutory holiday, plus those who read the EDR itself, the presentation, guidance and video online afterward. The EDR was rescinded in June when the risk of an unmanageable death rate had diminished significantly.

We also issued tough and necessary restrictions – such as the maximum of 10 attendees at funeral services starting in March, and in November created a chart for the sector that matched restrictions to the colour code framework of zones introduced by the province.

Our chart made it easier for bereavement sector establishments to keep up with a changing pandemic environment when health unit jurisdictions entered different colour zones from Green-Prevent to Grey-Lockdown. The BAO chart continues to provide a quick reference for our licensees, and families, to see what restrictions apply to their establishments when they enter higher or lower restriction levels in the province’s framework.

All of our BAO Directives were backed up with a steady stream of communications in our Notices, webinars, our COVID-19: Ready…together web index, online FAQs and swift replies to the many calls and emails from families and licensees since the BAO team started working remotely in mid-March. I’m proud to say our staff never skipped a beat in their duties and communications with licensees and families.

In addition to COVID-19

In addition, 2020 (our fourth year of operation) has been a priority-packed 12 months even had the pandemic never come around.

During the last year, the BAO has:

  • Increased inspection frequency of establishments and is developing a new tracking system  
  • Responded to consumer complaints and issued licence suspensions when needed
  • Worked collaboratively with the provincial government, on pandemic measures and more
  • Gathered information and worked with the Office of the Auditor General (AG) of Ontario – as one of 25 organizations, including five delegated authorities, who received their audit reports in December
  • Started implementing improvements in the AG Report, even before the audit was complete
  • Developed and launched a new and greatly improved public website
  • Began our regular strategic planning process to constantly improve the consumer protection and licensing work of the BAO

I thank my staff of 25 smart, hard working people and our committed and professional licensees across the province for pulling together for everyone’s safety in the toughest year many of us have experienced. I wish everyone a better 2021.