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University of Iowa News Release


April 12, 2011

UI students create funeral resource guides for Des Moines, Iowa City, Sioux City

When someone dies it can be difficult for loved ones to make informed decisions about final arrangements. For residents of Des Moines, Iowa City and Sioux City, the efforts of a group of University of Iowa social work students have made the process easier.

Five graduate students from the School of Social Work in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences spent a majority of the 2010-11 academic year collecting information about making final arrangements and planning a funeral. The results of their research are compiled in Funeral Resource Guides for Des Moines, Iowa City and Sioux City. Three students and UI Associate Professor of Social Work Mercedes Bern-Klug will present the guides at the annual meeting of the Iowa Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers on Thursday, April 14, in Des Moines. The guides are free and will be available at the presentation. The Des Moines and Iowa City/Cedar Rapids guides will be available April 15th on the UI School of Social Work website, The Sioux City guide will be available on the site around Memorial Day.

Each guide includes information about pricing from area funeral homes, veteran's burial benefits, Iowa laws regarding final arrangements, federal regulations regarding the sale of funeral-related merchandise and decisions that need to be made regarding final arrangements.

"Our main reason for doing this is to educate social workers and provide a public service," Bern-Klug said. "We want to help people understand their final arrangement options and costs, before the need arises. When it comes to funerals, many people just don't know how to compare options and prices—so they don't compare. It can help with the grieving process if they are satisfied with the choices they made."

Bern-Klug and several undergraduate students produced a guide for the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area in 2005. The success of the guide—which was the first of its kind in the area—prompted her to create two additional guides for the Des Moines and Sioux City areas when she and her students were updating the initial booklet. In addition to the Master of Social Work program on the UI's main campus in Iowa City, there are also programs in Des Moines, Sioux City and the Quad Cities. Bern-Klug said this was one of the first projects where students from three centers had the opportunity to work together. She said she hopes to develop a Funeral Resource Guide with the Quad Cities social work students next year.

Bern-Klug said it's important for social workers to know about final arrangement options to better serve the public.

"Our target audience for the Funeral Resource Guides includes social workers because about 75 percent of all deaths in the United States occur in either a hospital or a nursing home. Social workers spend a lot of time in those two settings, and typically they are the person responsible for discharge planning—death is a type of discharge," Bern-Klug said. "When a nursing home resident or a hospital or hospice patient dies a social worker's concern for the family remains. One way a social worker can serve is by encouraging families to review general price lists from at least two funeral homes before deciding which funeral home to call. They're not taking the place of a funeral director, but they can encourage families to ask questions and think about arrangements."

Members of the group included: Kate Bengtson, a student in the Iowa City program from Iowa City, Iowa; Julie Gledhill, a student in the Sioux City program from Ankeny, Iowa; Kris Manteufel, a student in the Sioux City program from Alta, Iowa; Erik Milbrandt, a student in the Iowa City program from Iowa City, Iowa; and Andrea Walker, a student in the Des Moines program from Des Moines, Iowa. Bengtson, Gledhill and Walker are the three students who will present the guides with Bern-Klug in Des Moines.

Editor's Note: A sample of the guide—a summary table of Des Moines area funeral home prices—is available at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Mercedes Bern-Klug, 319-335-1265; Kelli Andresen, University News Services, 319-384-0044,