Preneed Shenanigans by SCI
May 1, 1998
Ms. Charlotte Flynn, Convener
Gray Panthers of Austin
3710 Cedar St., #223
Austin, TX 78705
My family recently experienced a situation that I feel is morally and ethically wrong and could be encountered by every person and family in our state and nation. I feel that your organization represents a group of people who are most likely to encounter this situation in the near future and, in all likelihood, may have already gone through such an experience. This experience has had a profound effect on me, and I have determined to take whatever steps I can to try and prevent others from going through the same things.
In February my father passed away in Amarillo, Texas. Several years ago, he and his wife purchased pre-arranged funeral services and paid for them in full. Several family members went to Schooler-Gordon Funeral Home to make the final arrangements. Rather than spending the fifteen minutes we thought it would take to finalize arrangements, we experienced several hours of an emotionally traumatic experience that still has me upset two months later.
Briefly, we learned that what my father and others believe is a prearranged service that has prepaid "all" costs is not accurate. Opening and closing the plot, police escort service and other items are additional although many people believe this is all part of the funeral home's service. The worst experience was when we were made to believe that (1) the casket selection in the price my father had paid for was limited to several colors that were unsuitable; (2) we could have the appropriate casket if we would pay the $600 "upgrade cost" between a "nonprotected" and "protected" casket; (3) the appropriate casket selected by my father could be found no where in the city of Amarillo; and (4) the appropriate casket could be brought in if we would wait six (6) days. After spending several hours, Schooler-Gordon was very aware of our obvious displeasure. We agreed to come back the next morning, while Schooler-Gordon tried to find a suitable casket. We agreed to a casket the next morning that Schooler-Gordon quickly pointed out as a $600 upgraded casket that we would get at no extra charge. I later found out from other funeral homes that the cost difference between "protected" and "unprotected" caskets was $25. I also learned that there is a storage facility in Amarillo that keeps several hundred caskets on hand for use by any funeral home in the area.
I believe that this experience is ethically and morally wrong and feel that it is entirely too easy for a funeral home to operate in this manner and at the emotional expense of a grieving family. Had my father not prearranged and paid for his funeral, I would have spent an additional $600 without hesitating, rather than use one of the caskets that we were shown. In all likelihood, I would never have found out that I had paid $600 for a $25 gasket. How many times does this take place every day in our state and country?
Since February, I have worked with Representative Harriet Ehrhardt to determine the extent of this problem. I have learned that although this type of experience can occur at any funeral home, it appears to be more likely in funeral homes owned by SCI and two other very large corporations in the death care industry. The CBS program—Sixty Minutes—did a special on SCI funeral homes earlier this year. US News and World Report has recently also had an article relating to the death care industry, and the information available on the Internet is staggering. This week, KFDA-TV in Amarillo ran an investigative special on this subject and my family's experience. Even I was shocked to hear a former Schooler-Gordon (SCI) employee tell the reporter that our experience is exactly how this company operates. Also, the KFDA reporter told me that on the night of the program and the next day, the station received numerous calls from citizens who have had the same or a similar experience.
I have not filed a complaint with any of the three committees regulating funeral homes. I have determined that although they would address my family's experience specifically, it is apparent that there is nothing to insure that this same experience would not take place with the next family that walked in the door of Schooler-Gordon, or any of the other SCI-associated funeral homes. My greatest concern is that in the KFDA news report, Schooler-Gordon stated that less than 1% of the families they serve file a complaint. Because of the emotional distress families are in at this time, I believe that most people do not realize what is taking place and are focused only on getting through this difficult period. This does not make this type activity "right." In fact, I believe that it makes it even more ethically and morally reprehensible. The size and political clout of SCI and the rest of the death care industry is so great that I believe a change will only come through the focused efforts of our state officials and the efforts of groups such as yours to educate the public. I believe that SCI or any other large company is much more accountable when confronted by a large organization or group of individuals rather than by one person or family.
. . . I would like to become involved in getting this message out to the citizens of Texas. I am available to meet with you at any time. I would also like to meet with your membership or speak at any of your meetings. . . .
Bedford, TX 76021