State finds improperly embalmed bodies, South Hadley’s Ryder Funeral Home license suspended

Last modified: Sunday, June 01, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — State authorities suspended the license of funeral director William W. Ryder of Ryder Funeral Home in South Hadley after an investigation cited health code violations, including five bodies in various states of decomposition after not being properly embalmed and a sixth improperly stored.

The order issued by the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Funeral Directors and Embalmers also shuts down Ryder Funeral Home at 33 Lamb St., said Amie O’Hearn, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. That office includes the Division of Professional Licensure, which oversees the funeral home industry and the board of registration.

The state licensure division has set a hearing for June 6, when officials are expected to determine whether Ryder’s license should remain suspended. Ryder can make a case to have his license restored at that hearing.

Investigators from the state board, acting on a tip, visited the funeral home Wednesday and found numerous violations that they determined to impact the health, safety and welfare of the public and necessitate the suspension.

Ryder’s attorney, Paul Boudreau of South Hadley, said in a telephone interview Friday that Ryder has “significant health issues” that have affected his ability to provide services and meet obligations under his license. Ryder is getting help from an extended network of family, Boudreau said.

“Everyone is trying to make this thing work until we can make decisions about whether he is capable of providing services,” Boudreau said. He said it’s unclear at this point whether Ryder will be present at next Friday’s hearing in Boston or whether they will ask for an extension.

Investigators found six bodies that had not been properly embalmed and were not in the embalming/prep room or in a refrigeration unit. One of the bodies was delivered May 1, and the funeral home took possession of the other bodies between May 20 and 22.

All of the bodies were found to be in states of decomposition, some of which were wrapped in blankets, sheets or body bags, according to documents filed Division of Professional Licensure.

“A body which you took possession of on or about May 22, 2014 was in a state of decomposition and was completely open for viewing,” the order states. It also states that other bodies were located in the funeral home’s garage, viewing room and other rooms.

According to the report, two additional bodies were delivered to the funeral home and accepted by Ryder after a board investigator told him not to do so — and another body was attempted to be delivered during the morning of the inspection.

Investigators allege that Ryder failed to properly handle the bodies, including but not limited to timely burial or cremation.

“The Board concludes that your conduct, as described above and supported by reliable information, indicates that summary suspension of your licenses to practice is necessary to prevent an immediate and serious threat to the public health, safety, or welfare,” the order reads.

Boudreau said the issues are being resolved. He said two of the bodies were clearly held too long and should not have been there. The other bodies came in before Memorial Day and the paperwork could not be processed before the long holiday weekend.

All of the bodies were to be cremated, he said.

Funeral directors from St. Pierre-Phaneuf Funeral Chapels in Springfield and Chicopee and Czelusniak Funeral Home in Northampton had stepped in the last few days to handle Ryder’s ongoing arrangements. The business is now closed, however, and not handling future arrangements, O’Hearn said.

“They were trying to clear things that were already in process,” said David Walkinshaw, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Funeral Director’s Association. “The families involved here must be devastated. We don’t want to prolong anyone’s grief or suffering.”

Walkinshaw, who has been a funeral director for more than 30 years, said has never seen anything like the allegations Ryder faces, calling them “horrendous.”

“When I read it, if the allegations are true, my heart just felt for the families involved,” Walkinshaw said.

Ryder faces several other violations in the licensing board’s order, including failure to maintain proper paperwork for the bodies found as part of the investigation and engaging in fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.

Other violations include:

∎ not taking the appropriate steps for preparing an unembalmed body to defend against offensive odors and decomposition prior to burial;

∎ failure to follow the terms of a pre-need funeral contract and failing to maintain funeral pre-need contracts and engagements;

∎ failure to be fair with present or prospective customers with respect to quality of service.

South Hadley Town Administrator Michael Sullivan said the town’s health director was asked by state licensing board regulators Wednesday to participate in an the inspection. He said state officials advised the town to refer calls about the funeral home to Steven Gagne, an attorney in District Attorney’s David Sullivan’s office. Mary Carey, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said as a matter of policy, the office does not confirm or deny investigations.

Ryder Funeral Home has been family owned since 1953 at its Lamb Street location.