The dead in limbo in Lab West as funeral home seeks new space

An emergency meeting has been called to figure out where the region's only funeral home can continue its services.

Former hospital now off limits to Penney's Funeral Home due to safety issues

Labrador West MHA Graham Letto has called an emergency meeting to try and find a new space for Penney's Funeral Home. (Gary Locke/CBC)

An emergency meeting has been called to figure out where the only funeral home in Labrador West can continue its services.

Politicians and residents are scrambling to find another location to prepare the deceased for burial, because the space used by the funeral home for 50 years is "compromised."

"I share the concerns and the disappointment in the community. I certainly want this service, it's an essential service, and it's something that we should have in our community and we will find a solution," said Labrador West MHA Graham Letto.

The current situation means that if someone dies, their remains would have to be sent to Happy Valley-Goose Bay -— about 500 kilometres away. 

The issue came to light when the Labrador West Ministerial Association took to Facebook Wednesday to make an announcement on behalf of Penney's Funeral Home in Labrador City.

It is "not able to provide preparations or funeral services to our community until further notice ... due to the unavailability of the necessary facilities for the preparations of the deceased which is beyond their control," the post read.

Labrador West Ministerial Association posted this notice on its Facebook page. (Facebook)

Letto said he has talked to the family of a terminally ill patient and they are aware of the unusual — and stressful — situation.

"They understand the situation we're in, but again I have assured them we will help them through this," he said.

Old hospital continued to be used

Penney's Funeral Home has operated in the morgue of the old hospital — the Captain William Jackman Memorial building — even after the new hospital opened in 2015. 

"We've worked with Labrador-Grenfell Health and I've worked with the Penneys to keep it open as along as possible, but it's to the point now where the facility itself — the safety of the building — is compromised," Letto told CBC Thursday.

"We have had limited heat and water on there for the past number of years. So we've come to the point where we had no choice but to close the building and to either demolish it or look at other opportunities for it."

Penney's Funeral Home in Labrador City continued to operate out of the Captain William Jackman Memorial Hospital, even after the new hospital opened. (CBC)

Letto said the health authority has been "very cooperative" and there was an agreement to allow Penney's Funeral Home to continue working out of the former hospital until Sept. 30.

"That has passed and to this date we have not been able to find an alternative facility," he said.

Letto explained the new hospital has a morgue, but it doesn't have the room needed to accommodate funeral home operations. 

"Funeral services are normally done by the private sector ... hospitals don't normally have preparation-of-the-deceased rooms or facilities to do that," he said. 

Emergency meeting

Letto said he has called an emergency meeting for Saturday to discuss the issue with the mayor, the Labrador West Ministerial Association and others.

"We don't need a big space so I mean we're hoping that we can find in the community, somewhere where we can put this facility so Mr. Penney can carry on with his funeral director business," he said.

The Labrador West Health Centre opened in 2015, but it does not have the facilities to accommodate a funeral home. (Submitted)

Letto acknowledged the search for a new space has been underway since the former hospital closed. Nevertheless, he is hopeful a solution will emerge out of Saturday's meeting. 

"I feel obligated as the MHA to find a solution to this issue and I will," he said.

"The trauma of losing a loved one is enough. The family doesn't need this particular and extra stress on them to find a funeral director or a means of burying their loved one."

With files from Here and Now