Bill drafted in ‘direct response to funeral home malpractice cases’ in institutions like the Kent Funeral Home in Gypsum was signed into law Monday by Colorado Governor Jared Polis.
The legislation expands the authority of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies to inspect and investigate funeral homes and crematoria based on complaints of misconduct or malpractice, according to a press release on Monday. .
“This law is a direct response to funeral home malpractice cases at several Western Slope funeral homes, including Kent Funeral Homes in Leadville and Gypsum, and will come into effect in August 2022,” the statement said.
“This law is for my constituents, some of whom have been terribly wronged, by ensuring that (the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies) has the power to investigate and prevent funeral home malpractice and atrocities,” said Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon. in the release. Roberts co-sponsored the bill in the Colorado House of Representatives.
Former Lake County coroner Shannon Kent and his wife, Staci Kent, operated Kent’s funeral home in Gypsum until the state ordered them to suspend operations in 2020.
In December 2019, a client of the funeral home’s Leadville operation contacted the facility to arrange the cremation of a stillborn child, according to a state report. The client reported that the Leadville funeral home did not provide written notice that cremation services would be performed at Gypsum’s location. Additionally, the ashes were only provided to the customer after several follow-up calls, were not labeled upon delivery, and were later found to contain “recognizable elements of a perinatal human infant, fragments of ‘long bones of an older/larger adult and metal,’ according to the report.
“I wish we didn’t have to pass bills like this, but I’m grateful we did this and passed in a bipartisan way,” Roberts said in the statement. “The horrific incidents in Gypsum, Leadville, Montrose and elsewhere have made this necessary. This law will make it easier for state agencies to identify neglect in funeral homes and crematoria so that no more Colorado families will have to endure the heartache caused by funeral homes in Kent and others in our state. .
The bill was sponsored in the Colorado Senate by Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, another Eagle County resident familiar with the toll a lack of oversight at funeral homes has had on residents.
Shannon and Staci Kent were arrested last February after investigators found a poorly decomposed unrefrigerated body, unlabeled bags of cremated remains and an abandoned stillborn child at funeral homes in Silverthorne, Leadville and Gypsum.
Shannon Kent was sentenced to six months probation after he was found guilty of official misconduct in the second degree for allowing his wife to serve as deputy coroner before placing her in that role.
The Kents were due to stand trial in December in Summit County on multiple counts related to the abuse of a corpse, but a mistrial was declared after a key witness came down with COVID-19. The trial was adjourned from March 14 to 18, but 5th Judicial District Judge Terry Ruckriegle cited the lack of impartial jurors in declaring another trial void. A new trial date has not yet been determined.
Beyond the cases of Shannon and Staci Kent, there is the story of the funeral directors from Sunset Mesa to Montrose. The two owners, Megan Hess and Shirley Koch, allegedly donated fake cremated remains belonging to other people to hundreds of families and sold bodies and body parts without telling their loved ones. A federal grand jury indicted both women on a series of felony charges in 2020. Hess and Koch have pleaded not guilty to all charges and are due to stand trial in April.
House Bill 1073 is titled “Funeral Establishment and Inspection of Crematoriums” and is intended to provide an “expanded authorization to enter the premises of an establishment that provides services related to human cadavers in order to carry out an inspection”, according to the text of the bill .
Prior to the news legislation, Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies did not have the authority to inspect funeral homes and crematoria “without the consent of the business owner and other lofty legal thresholds,” according to the press release.
The bill was sponsored by Roberts and Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, at Colorado House. In the state Senate, the bill was sponsored by Donovan and Don Coram, R-Montrose.