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Funeral home disputes inspector's claims that bodies were decomposing

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Operators of a Maplewood funeral home say a state health inspector's claims that bodies on the premises were decomposing are not accurate.

The Minnesota Department of Health has now banned the Maple Oaks Funeral Home from embalming or cremating bodies and holding funerals, but the lawyer representing the home tells KSTP the situation is a misunderstanding.

Michael Sharkey says the bodies the inspector saw were going through natural dehydration. Sharkey tells the Pioneer Press the bodies were being embalmed and to say they were decomposing is hyperbole that shows a misunderstanding of the embalming process.

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Sharkey says funeral directors Peter Vasey and David Thorsell, who have operated Maple Oaks since it opened in 1976, sometimes provide embalming services for the Twin Cities' four Hmong funeral homes, the Pioneer Press reports.

A traditional Hmong funeral service can last up to a week, during which it's customary for there to be no other bodies on the premises, the newspaper says.

Peter Vasey told the Star Tribune "all we were trying to do was honor their traditions," adding that six funerals for which Maple Oaks was preparing the bodies have been put on hold as a result of the state's action last month.

The Star Tribune says it's extremely rare for the Health Department to put a stop to the mortuary activities at a funeral home, with staff members at the department unable to recall a similar case.

KSTP says the Health Department declined a request for an interview, but Sharkey tells the station a hearing will be held soon and Maple Oaks will ask that the home be allowed to reopen with additional oversight by inspectors.

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