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Regulatory board rejects proposal to reopen Thos. Shepherd funeral home

Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors, which has been shut down by state regulators since last November, is struggling in its effort to reopen.

The North Carolina Board of Funeral Service last week declined to approve a consent order that had been negotiated by the board’s general counsel and the 118-year-old funeral home, which has had its license suspended after an inspection in June of 2020 found numerous alleged violations. In a show-cause order the state board issued last October, an inspector documented the late filing of a death certificate, found inadequate upkeep of the crematory and detailed five consumer complaints from families who had used services at the funeral home.
The Board of Funeral Service, which regulates the business of funeral homes and crematoriums, preneed contracts and other matters, took up a number of proposed consent orders on July 21, including one that would have allowed Shepherd to reopen under certain conditions, Stephen Davis, executive director of the funeral service board, said last week.
“The board deliberated and carefully reviewed all the elements of the proposed settlement but did not approve it,” Davis said. The board will move to schedule a hearing on the suspension, “though probably not in August because our docket is pretty full. It most likely would be September, possibly October, but we’re anxious to bring some kind of resolution to all this. They are still under a summary suspension of their at-need and preneed (services) and crematory.”
Davis said consent orders are not a public record until they’re approved by both parties and adopted by the funeral service board. He said he did not know the reasons the board declined to OK the settlement because he does not attend that part of the meetings.
“The board met in closed session to deliberate once they had a chance to hear from the Shepherds and their attorneys on the proposed consent order,” he said. “During closed session it’s limited simply to board members. I don’t really know what their specific concerns were but they obviously did not find the proposed consent order acceptable.”

‘It’s killing us physically, financially and emotionally’

Melody Shepherd, who has run the funeral business and crematory alongside her husband, Thomas R. “Tom” Shepherd, for more than 20 years, is not a licensed funeral director herself. The proposed consent order, she said, barred her from representing the funeral home in any capacity. The funeral home said in a response it submitted last November to the regulatory board’s “show cause” order that because of serious health issues Tom Shepherd was “not currently competent to address violations” spelled out in the order.
“We had a hearing on Wednesday the 21st and they declined for us to open,” Melody Shepherd said. “I guess we have to appeal it again, I don’t know. Tom is declining so much in health, this has bothered him so much. I don’t know the next thing to do or what the next option is. I don’t know.”
“There’s a lot of people in funeral service that have done a whole lot worse than we’ve done and they turn their heads to that,” she said. “If they like you they like you and if they don’t they don’t.
“They won’t even talk to me,” she added. “They don’t like me because I’m outspoken and I call them on things. It’s a personal vendetta. It’s me against them but it’s killing Tom and it’s killing us physically, financially and emotionally.”
Davis said the professional staff and board have no personal bias against the Hendersonville funeral business, nor any funeral home they regulate.
“That just is not true,” he said of Shepherd’s accusation of a vendetta. “The board considers consent orders on a regular basis whenever disciplinary matters come to its attention and require its deliberation. The board is exercising its statutory authority to oversee and regulate in this case a funeral home that has a number of complaints and allegations against it. They’re being deliberate and certainly being fair because the Shepherds and their attorneys have had ample opportunity to present their case.”
“The board never acts on personalities,” he added. “In fact when cases come before the board in the form of a disciplinary report in a regular board meeting, the board doesn’t know, other than just a number, an individual or a funeral home. They’re identified by a case number. Of course, in this case they did know because we’re beyond the board just getting a report from the disciplinary committee. They’re now deliberating. But there’s no vendetta of any kind.”
County Commissioner Michael Edney, a friend of the Shepherd family, reported to his fellow commissioners last week that things had improved at Shepherd Memorial Park, which had been the subject of complaints from families in May about cemetery upkeep and access.
“They now have four fulltime employees,” Edney said. “They’re going through some reorganizational type things to make sure everything is as good as it can be and improve where they need to make improvements and they’re trying to be open and transparent in working with folks to let everybody know that things are over the hump and heading in the right direction. Everything’s looking good.”
Edney did not comment on the status of the funeral home’s license. Attorney Jon Yarbrough, who represented the Shepherds at last week’s Board of Funeral Service hearing, said Tuesday he would have to speak with his clients before he could talk about the next steps in their case.