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Windsor mortuary faces state discipline, possible loss of licenses

The state agency that oversees California’s funeral industry has initiated disciplinary action against a Windsor mortuary accused of holding unembalmed bodies for more than 24 hours without refrigeration and at an unapproved location.

The Cemetery and Funeral Bureau is seeking to revoke the license for Conneely Family Cremation & Funeral Services and revoke or suspend the license for Patrick Duffy Conneely, the funeral director.

The allegations cited in a nine-page accusation also include misrepresentations in obtaining a license, engaging in false and/or misleading advertising and operating under more than one license at a single facility.

Included in the case are references to previous warning letters accusing Conneely of negligence and unprofessional conduct.

The case was filed Jan. 19 by Gina Sanchez, chief of the bureau, a branch of the state Department of Consumer Affairs.

Duffy Conneely, 46, comes from a family that has been in the funeral business for five generations. He operates a mortuary next to the Safeway store on South Brooks Road in Windsor.

“Conneely Family Cremation & Funeral Services vehemently denies that it ever held any unembalmed decedent longer than 24 hours without refrigeration,” Robert Bone, a Santa Rosa attorney representing Conneely, said in a statement.

Bone shared documents with The Press Democrat that he said properly accounted for the unembalmed body said to be in question in the state investigation. The documents showed a Conneely receiving log for an individual received at 1:15 p.m. on Jan. 18, 2021, and a crematory receiving log indicating the individual was placed in refrigeration at 1 p.m. the next day.

The items provide “unqualified documentary evidence” that the Conneely mortuary “did not and has never” violated the 24-hour limit imposed by state law, Bone said.

Conneely’s Windsor mortuary uses a Novato establishment, Valley Memorial Park Cemetery & Funeral Home, for storage and preparation of bodies for funeral services, according to a notice issued by the licensing bureau.

Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Cooper, who is representing the bureau, said he could not comment on the specific allegations concerning Conneely and his business.

The attorney general’s office does not discuss details of pending litigation with anyone not involved in the case, he said

The accusation, available on the bureau’s website, says that on or about Jan. 19, 2021, a bureau field representative observed that Conneely’s establishment was doing business at a location on Bell Road in Windsor.

“The business was improperly storing bodies that were not embalmed or refrigerated. The Bureau had not approved this storage location,” the document says.

Cooper said he has been in contact with Bone, who initially asked for three weeks to prepare for negotiations prior to the administrative hearing sought by the bureau.

A hearing would be set about four months after both sides determine negotiations are unlikely to settle the matter, he said.

A settlement proposal is in Cooper’s hands, Bone said in an email Thursday, adding he was “hopeful based on my conversations with him that the matter will be finally resolved without any revocation of any licenses.”

Bureau complaints or investigations are “treated as confidential” and are not discussed by the agency, Michelle Cave, a consumer affairs spokeswoman said in an email.

The bureau governs 2,787 funeral directors and 1,092 funeral establishments, and since 2020 has issued 17 license revocations, she said.

California law says licensed funeral establishments and funeral directors who hold unembalmed human remains for more than 24 hours “shall cause the body to be refrigerated at an approved facility with sufficient capacity.”

Refrigerating a body below 40 degrees Fahrenheit slows but does not stop decomposition, according to industry sources. A refrigerated body will last three to four weeks.

State law allows a funeral home to share a preparation or storage room with another establishment upon approval by the bureau.

The state case against Conneely also cited two formal warning letters sent to him in the past two years.

An April 2020 letter asserted he had “committed negligence” as funeral director at Windsor Healdsburg Mortuary by misspelling the name of a decedent and “failing to exercise adequate supervision and control over the establishment.”

A July 2021 letter asserted he had “committed unprofessional conduct” at the same mortuary by failing to finalize the establishment’s application for a change of address, by doing business at the South Brooks Road location which was in use by another establishment and by “engaging in misrepresentation and/or fraud” by charging unauthorized fees for a late payment.

The accusation also noted a citation in July 2021 that alleged Conneely had illegally operated Conneely Family Cremation & Funeral Services at a time when it was unlicensed and imposed a fine of $200.

A separate citation issued on Oct. 13, 2021, and based on an investigation by a bureau representative revealed that Windsor Healdsburg Mortuary and Conneely Family Cremation & Funeral Services were both illegally engaged in business as a funeral establishment at 9074 Brooks Road South.

It also alleged that Conneely misrepresented himself as an individual licensed owner of Windsor Healdsburg Mortuary which was actually owned and operated by a limited liability company, which is prohibited.

The citation also said the establishment failed to obtain approval to share preparation and/or storage facilities with another licensed establishment after moving to the Brooks Road location, which is not authorized to offer on-site preparation or storage facilities.

An administrative fine of $700 was assessed at a rate of $100 for each violation, and the citation included an order for Conneely to “immediately take such action as may be necessary to achieve full compliance” with state regulations.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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