SHERIDAN — Sheridan County established procedures regarding indigent burial payments this week, which county officials said will clarify the county’s role in indigent burials.
The rules describe the county’s responsibilities when it comes to paying for the final expenses — which includes preparation of a body, transportation of a body to a cemetery and the cost of burying or cremating a body — of deceased county residents who did not have, or whose family does not have, the means to afford those expenses.
Sheridan County Administrative Director Renee Obermueller said the county has historically worked with the county coroner’s office and local funeral homes on indigent burials, but has never had regulations in place that define the extent of the county’s responsibilities in such cases.
“I think what this does is it just establishes a really good process so that everyone is on the same page,” Obermueller said.
According to the rules, funeral homes can submit applications to the county for reimbursement for final expenses incurred attending to indigent decedents; those applications will be reviewed by the county coroner and passed along to the county commissioners for final approval.
The rules stipulate that the county will never pay more than $2,295 for an indigent burial. Any remaining costs associated with the internment of an indigent decedent would be absorbed by the funeral home.
All county residents, including in the city of Sheridan, would be subject to the indigent burial procedures.
Obermueller said all indigent burials are cremated and interred in the funeral home that handles the indigent decedent. The county coroner’s office decides which funeral home will handle an indigent decedent, she said.
If the relatives or friends of an indigent decedent subsequently decide they want to claim their family member’s remains, they will have to reimburse the county for what it paid to have the individual interred. Additionally, they would have to pay the funeral home that prepared the indigent decedent any lost profits — in other words, the difference between the funeral home’s customary rates and the capped amount the county will pay for indigent burials — and the funeral for any costs associated with disinterment.
Obermueller said the county handled 11 indigent burials in 2017, 12 in 2018, and seven in 2019.
Doug Goodwin, the pastor of the First Christian Church in Sheridan, asked the county commissioners to consider religious sensibilities in the indigent burial procedures and offer the family of an indigent decedent the opportunity to have religious rites performed.
Commissioner Tom Ringley said he did not believe religious sensibilities were relevant to the rules the commission was considering, particularly because the rules primarily pertained to payments for indigent burials.
“I’m not saying prayers aren’t needed, but this is a straightforward administrative procedure,” Ringley said.
County Attorney Clint Beaver agreed with Ringley’s assessment of the procedures.
Commission Chairman Nick Siddle said local religious organizations could approach funeral homes and offer to perform religious rites for indigent decedents, but religious sensibilities did not need to be included in the county’s procedures.