- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - A Missouri medical examiner plans to start spreading the ashes of unclaimed indigent remains in a local cemetery instead of keeping them in his office.

Greene County Medical Examiner Tom Van De Berg has the ashes of about 20 people in a wooden cabinet, he told the Springfield News-Leader (https://sgfnow.co/1TCbTJc ). Van De Berg’s office is responsible for making arrangements for those who die in Greene County with nobody willing or able to take responsibility for the body.

County commissioners last week approved an updated policy for indigent remains, which the medical examiner said will help the county keep up with rising cremation prices and keep better track of what happens to the deceased.

Before the medical examiner’s office was built in 2014, unclaimed ashes were kept at funeral homes or crematories around the city, Van De Berg said. There is no way to know how many unclaimed ashes are still tucked away in those places, he said.

The policy approved by the commission removed a requirement for people to pay back funeral homes for cremation services - which can cost between $700 and $1,500 for a basic cremation - if they want to claim indigent remains.

Under the policy, the county will pay $400 per cremation and ask people who pick up indigent remains to cover the county’s cost.

Eighteen indigent people were cremated in 2015, said Tina Phillips, who works in the county budget office.

Van De Berg said his office will keep all remains for at least a year, and if nobody claims them, the ashes will be scattered in a county cemetery on the first Thursday of May.

The county’s policy requires notice to be published in a local newspaper 30 days prior to the scatter date.

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Information from: Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com

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