Jeff Kellum waters the planters at the Cremation Scattering Garden at Woodside Cemetery and Arboretum Friday, June 30, in Middletown. Over the past few years, the number of indigent cremations have been rising along with the number of indigents who die from fatal overdoses. Middletown does not bury indigents. Instead, they are cremated. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Indigent burials add to cost of overdose crisis in Middletown

When a person dies without any assets to cover final expenses or when the family does not or are not willing to cover those costs, local governments in Ohio are responsible for disposing of indigent remains, according to Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips.

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She said the city only pays for indigent cremations if the person is from Middletown.

“We make all attempts to find the deceased’s family and or last residence. If in fact the last residence was for instance Hamilton then we would send his information to Hamilton City (Health Department),” Phillips said. “If no one knows who he is and if no one knows where his past address was, then he truly becomes indigent.”

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Some people don’t want to pay for funeral arrangements and there are many who don’t have insurance to cover the costs, she said.

“It’s happening a lot more,” Phillips said. “There are many families that don’t have the money for a funeral.”

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Currently the city has a contract with all of the funeral homes to perform indigent cremations in Middletown. Phillips said the city provides $775 for each indigent cremation. That fee was increased last year from $505.

So far in 2017, the city has spent over $31,000 for the 40 indigent cremations as of June 26 paid by the city of Middletown, according to the city Health Department. Of those indigent cremations, six women ages 23 to 53, and two men, ages 44 and 66, were the result of a drug overdoses, according to city records.

In comparison, the city paid for 49 indigent cremations in 2016 and spent just less than $38,000. Of those, 14 people, six females ranging in age between 29 and 55, and eight males, ages 33 to 57 died as a result of an overdose, according to city records.

Middletown taxpayers paid for 38 indigent cremations in 2015; 38 indigent cremations in 2014; and 36 indigent cremations in 2013.

RELATED: Success rate high in Butler County for unclaimed bodies

Phillips said a family who does not have the funds to cover funeral arrangements will meet with the funeral home of their choice where they will fill out an indigent application that is vetted by the funeral home and the city. Once the city approves the application, then the cremation can take place after the family signs off.

If no one claims the ashes, they are taken to the Woodside Cemetery scattering garden.

She said the only time there is an indigent burial is when the county Coroner’s Office requests it on a case by case basis due to a homicide investigation or if the body cannot be identified.

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Ron Spaulding, of Wilson-Schramm-Spaulding Funeral Home, said they have not had a lot of indigent cremations but said the investigators at the Coroner’s Office will track down the next of kin.

He said once a family member is found, the body will be transferred to the funeral home, which will also assist in the indigent application process. Spaulding said sometimes the family will take care of the expenses.

“It takes a few days to approve the application,” he said.

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After the city approves the funding, Spaulding said the family authorizes the cremation.

Woodside Cemetery does cremations for Wilson-Schramm-Spaulding and several other funeral homes in the area. After the cremation, the ashes are placed in a temporary container, a plastic container that is placed inside a cardboard box and returned to the funeral home, Spaulding said. He said the funeral home will transfer the ashes into an urn which the family may have purchased.

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Pam Parramore, of Baker-Stevens-Parramore Funeral Home, said they have not done a lot of indigent cremations but that it seems that there are few more each year.

“It seems to be going up a little each year and I believe its because of the drug overdoses,” she said.

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Parramore said they did eight indigent cremations last year and have already done six in 2017.

She said the city is getting quicker on making a decision to approve indigent applications that take an average of four to five days for review and approval.

“It’s sad for the families to be in this situation,” she said. “It’s difficult for the family because they have to wait until the city approves the funds.”

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