COVID and workers' compensation - The Financial Tool of COVID-19 Deaths

Aug 4, 2020

Losing a loved one unexpectedly is never easy. For a low-income family during a global pandemic, it can be overwhelming.

In New York City, more than 23,000 people have most likely died from COVID-19, and the deaths have been concentrated in low-income neighborhoods. About 19 percent of the city’s population lives in poverty. 

Systems in place to help grieving loved ones locate a body and pay for a funeral have been overwhelmed or difficult to navigate. It’s been even more complicated for immigrants, who make up over a third of the city’s population; for undocumented immigrants, some of these systems have been inaccessible.

“All they want is to have some sense of closure on this tragedy, but in the moment, they have no idea what to do,” said Theo Oshiro, deputy director of the community organizing group Make the Road New York.

The difficulties begin with hospitals, which have been overburdened with COVID-19 cases and whose services to help families navigate the system have been overrun. Some families have been getting a call from the hospital telling them that their loved one has died from COVID-19 with no further instructions about what comes next, Oshiro said. 

The stress on the hospital system has spilled over into funeral homes, he added. Normally, funeral homes take care of obtaining the body from the hospital, preparing it for cremation or burial, and planning and arranging whatever funeral the family may want. 

“That system just got blown up,” Oshiro said. “Funeral homes are just not able to cope with the sheer numbers of people that are dying.” 

Between mid-March and mid-May, one Bronx funeral home took care of 200 bodies, compared to 55 in a typical time period; by late April it had had to turn away more than 200 families for lack of space. 

In some cases, Make the Road staff had to beg a funeral home to take a family on. Some funeral homes didn’t even answer because they were so overwhelmed, Oshiro said. One family he worked with lived in Queens could only find a funeral home that would take them in Staten Island because other homes were so full. 

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