Some Hawaii families are unable to afford burials or cremation for their loved ones as the state assistance program had budget cuts and the economy continues to flounder.
Penny, Connie and Wes Brumbaugh, owners and directors of A Hui Hou Crematory and Funeral Home, have taken it upon themselves to help these families afford funeral services, with the help of their newly formed nonprofit.
A Hui Hou Ministries became a 501(c)(3) charitable organization in late March. It provides free final services, excluding merchandise and third-party expense, for children ages 17 and under. It also provides basic cremation or burial services to those who have limited financial resources and can demonstrate this inability, as well as for unclaimed bodies.
The state Department of Human Services Med-QUEST Division and counties have always worked together to provide a decent burial for indigent or unclaimed people. Section 841-10 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes states, “When any coroner or deputy coroner takes an inquest upon the dead body of a stranger or indigent person or, being called for that purpose, does not think it necessary, on view of the body, that any inquest should be taken, the coroner or deputy coroner shall cause the body to be decently buried or cremated.”
The Med-QUEST Division pays for the burial or cremation of the dead if the next of kin cannot afford it or if, under Medicaid, they qualify for a supplementary federal death benefit that pays up to a certain amount of money. The division used to provide a fully state-funded funeral payment of up to $800 to surviving relatives to defray the mortuary and burial service costs to those who did not qualify for the federal death benefit. Provided by the Social Security Administration, the federal death benefit is a lump sum of $255.
In January, in an effort to deal with budget cuts, the division aligned its assistance program with the federal government’s. It is now providing a lump sum death benefit of $255 — a change estimated to save about $430,000 in state funds annually. But it doesn’t even begin to cover the costs of final services charged by funeral homes, some of which are no longer accepting the death benefit, Penny said.
“Due to budgetary circumstances, Med-QUEST, the state agency that has traditionally covered the cost of caring for those in financial need, has cut down on the payments for the final services of those without the means to provide for themselves significantly. The effects of this situation have only begun to reverberate through the community,” Wes said. “It has always been our policy from day one to provide all services for children ages 17 and under at no charge, and we have always made it our mission to work with people who have faced the death of a loved one regardless of their level of ability to pay. However, the significant cuts to Med-QUEST and our efforts to offer services to families islandwide will render far more in need than we are financially prepared to serve on our own.”
Since opening in 2004, A Hui Hou Crematory and Funeral Home has provided funerals, cremation, graveside, urns, caskets, sea burials, embalming, remains preparation and other services throughout West Hawaii. With the formation of its nonprofit, its services are now offered islandwide.
Penny said roughly 1,500 to 1,600 people die on Hawaii Island annually. Funeral options are expensive. At A Hui Hou Crematory and Funeral Home, a direct burial costs $2,070 and a basic cremation is $1,045, while a traditional funeral service costs $3,395 and a full service cremation is $3,570.
Sometimes, bodies will be left for months in hospital morgues because the next of kin cannot afford to bury or cremate their loved ones or bodies are held hostage by other funeral homes until full payment for services is received. There was one report of a body being left in a hospital morgue for two years, Penny said.
“It’s not right that people, who were loved and cared for, are left lying in the morgue for an undetermined amount of time or that bodies are being held in storage for ransom until payments are rendered,” Connie said. “Someone needs to step up and do the right thing. That’s what we’re trying to do, but we need the community’s help. We just want all people to be treated equal and taken care of, not left to rot just anywhere or nowhere.”
Connie shared the story of a veteran, living in Ocean View, who had nothing. His friends called A Hui Hou Crematory and Funeral Home because they had no money to pay for his service and needed help. The deceased had a note in his pocket that read: “Please don’t burn me.”
“This spoke to me that he didn’t want cremation. I have a deep respect for our military. I grew up as an Army brat. My father was retired military,” Penny said. “This man was honorably discharged. He deserved military honors. So we buried him in West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery with full military honors and his two friends were present. It was humble, but dignified.”
A Hui Hou Ministries is accepting donations to help these families who simply cannot afford to bury or cremate bodies, as well as to assist the nameless and the named, but unclaimed. Donations, which are tax deductible, may be mailed to A Hui Hou Ministries, PO Box 5489, Kailua-Kona, HI 96745.
A Hui Hou Crematory and Funeral Home is located at 74-5615 Luhia Street in Kailua-Kona. For more information about its nonprofit, call 329-5137, 935-4851 or 887-2801. Also, visit ahuihouservices.com.