Mortuary science program awaits blueprint approval for funeral home

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Contract workers with Vaughn Construction occupy Ashby House, the future site of the mortuary science funeral home Jan. 31 at West Ashby Place and Lewis street. V. Finster

Program is licensed as a funeral establishment but students must get experience off-campus.

Frank Piedra

The mortuary science program is awaiting the green light to move forward with a funeral home.

The location, an apartment building that once housed campus offices, is in the blueprint stage until all city approvals are passed. It is located at 210 W. Ashby Place.

“We face the challenge of not being able to make many modifications to the building given the location and the physical structure,” Dr. Jose Luis Moreno, mortuary science coordinator, said Jan. 25 in an interview. “We have to work within limitations.”

Some of these limitations could include removing essential support walls and a staircase to make room for a chapel, prep room and dress room. Another limitation is budget.

The college cannot provide a budget until plans are complete and approved by the city, he said.

“We also face the challenge of employing staff to run the funeral home,” he said. “We want the students to be very involved in every aspect from funeral arrangements to ceremonies in addition to body prep, so we must find a way to not take away from them. We will have a licensed supervisor to monitor every move and a designated person to run the home and answer phones.

“We have been having several meetings to see what we can and cannot do to the building and how to move forward with a budget. We have to meet certain safety regulations as well for the general public, our students and staff.”

The mortuary science program at this college is licenced as San Antonio Mortuary and is the only one of its kind in Texas to be a licensed funeral establishment. It is also the first college-based funeral service education program to be offered in the state. Despite this, the program does not advertise as a licensed funeral establishment because of lack of space to perform necessary functions.

 “If we are asked or if someone is in need, we can help with body preparations and services for funeral homes,” he said. “For example, we have assisted two families previously. We can transport the body in a converted van to a place of worship and help as much as we can with other things.”

If the funeral home gets approval, students can use skills learned from training in the field and apply them in running the Ashby location.

“Many prospective students come into the program. We send them to an orientation and then to funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries so they can really see what we do for two reasons — for the students to make sure this is the right decision for them and so they have a better understanding of the field with hands-on experience,” he said. “This involves picking up a dead body at a hospital, shadowing a funeral director and assisting in funeral services. We hope that within the year, we can start work on remodeling”

Previously, Texas law did not allow funeral homes to be in tax-exempt properties, he said. The program petitioned to have the law changed, and now state law allows for funeral homes in higher learning institutions.

The college’s training facilities are of the highest caliber compared to other programs in the state because of resources such as an anatomy lab, an observatory, an embalming facility, body refrigeration, and an Anatomage, which is the world’s first virtual dissection table that is vital to the students’ transition to working with an actual body, he said.


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