A Maplewood mortuary is back in business after reaching a stipulation and settlement agreement with the state Department of Health.
State officials on May 15 ordered Maple Oaks-Phalen Park Funeral Home to close after state inspectors said they found unsanitary conditions and several decomposing bodies in the embalming room.
The funeral home’s owners said that they were helping prepare bodies for Hmong funerals and that the bodies were dehydrated, not decomposing.
The move to close the funeral home was extremely rare, state health officials said. But after a re-inspection of the funeral home and an agreement with the state on July 8, the business has reopened and held several funerals, said Michael Sharkey, an attorney representing Maple Oaks.
The agreement with the state calls for increased cleaning and other improvements, and Maple Oaks agreed to pay a minimum of $15,000 in penalties. As part of its stipulation and settlement agreement, Sharkey said, Maple Oaks has agreed to take no legal action against the state.
“They are operating at the absolute highest level of compliance,” Sharkey said, adding that the agreement allows the state to inspect the funeral home at any time.
Sharkey said that Maple Oaks, which has been in the funeral business for decades, will be subject to “heightened scrutiny and oversight.”
He added: “We have nothing to hide.”
The owners said they did nothing wrong and that inspectors misunderstood what they saw regarding several bodies being prepared for Hmong funerals that were to be held at other funeral homes.
Still, Sharkey said Maple Oaks will no longer prepare bodies for those funerals. He called it “a business decision.”
“Other funeral homes may want to do that, and have already stepped up,” he said.
At the time of Maple Oaks’ forced closure, owner E. Peter Vasey said it was being remodeled in preparation for sale. On Friday, Sharkey said that the business still is entertaining offers from potential buyers. Being shut down for nearly two months, he said, “was devastating financially,” although he said he could not quantify the losses.