Oregon’s Mortuary and Cemetery Board is one of the state’s smallest agencies, with fewer than 10 employees. Yet it has a big job to do inspecting more than 666 mortuaries, crematoriums and operating cemeteries at least every two years. Unfortunately, it’s fallen behind on that job.

There are reasons for the lag in inspections, though. The board’s executive director, Chad W. Dresselhaus, notes that the agency, which generally has operated with just a single inspector, was without one following a resignation in September 2018. The position was filled earlier this year. Too, the 2019 Legislature gave the department funds to hire an additional inspector, though that person is not on the job yet.

Even with two inspectors, however, the backlog will not disappear overnight.

A bigger problem for the public, at least, may be ripe for a legislative fix. The board that oversees mortuaries and cemeteries is considered a health professional regulatory board, just like the state’s nursing, dentistry and medical boards are. As such they’re barred by law from making public anything they learn during an investigation, including such things as complaints about a license-holder’s conduct.

Thus, too, inspection reports are discussed in board meetings that are closed to the public, which prevents the public from knowing how specific institutions fared.

That’s too much secrecy. The public cannot know about complaints; it cannot know about investigations into those complaints and it cannot know the outcomes of what are presumably routine inspections of facilities around the state. That means members of the public, who are often under stress when they deal with these businesses, are at a disadvantage, without knowledge about the basic ethics and honesty of mortuary, cemetery and crematorium operators they deal with. Lawmakers should give serious thought to changing the situation.

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