Indiana launches new online system to issue death certificates, delays reported by funeral directors

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INDIANAPOLIS – The state of Indiana switched to a new online system for certifying and issuing death and birth certificates in early 2021.

The previous system had been in place for over ten years, when the state moved from a paper-only system to an electronic death registry with an interface between doctors, health services, funeral directors, etc.

However, 12 days after the start of the year, funeral directors and coroners are reporting a significant backlog due to the new system, which they say is having an impact on grieving Hoosiers.

According to Andy Clayton, a licensed Indiana funeral director and executive director of the Indiana Funeral Directors Association, there are significant delays in certifying and issuing death certificates.

Part of the reason is that, in the new system, stakeholders, including doctors, nurse practitioners and funeral directors, all need to be registered. If they are not, they have no way of authorizing a death certificate.

Clayton said this system, called DRIVE, or Database Registration of Indiana’s Vital Events, was originally scheduled to start over a year and a half ago, so doctors and funeral directors had plenty of warnings for s ” register and train.

Right now, they are finding that many doctors have not registered, which in turn leads to delays in signing death certificates.

“I know there is progress and sometimes the progress is painful, but physicians and funeral directors have been aware for over a year that this system is coming,” said David Stillinger, coroner of the Hancock County and owner of Stillinger Family Funeral Home.

“It’s just frustrating when people don’t engage, sign up and do what they’re supposed to do,” he said.

“You know what the doctors have been doing for the past 11 months,” Clayton said. “They take care of the people and these administrative processes take place outside the domain, so it’s easy for them to slip through the cracks. They’re busy training people, keeping people alive, so I can understand some of the disconnect here at the end of the year.

Other factors causing delays in death certificates, Clayton explained, include the challenges of migrating from the old system to the new one, and the functionality and code issues associated with the system.

“Death certificates and just like birth certificates, they prove a person’s identity,” Clayton said.

In the state of Indiana, death certificates are administered at the county level and require the signature of a physician or coroner.

“You must have funeral directors imputing important information about the deceased; their name, age, date of birth, where they live, “said Clayton,” then the doctors or coroners give the cause of death and that information is married to the local health department and certified copies of the death are printed for family. “

According to Clayton, the number of copies a family requests varies, with some people wanting one or two, others asking for dozens depending on the deceased’s affairs.

“We find that the system just doesn’t really work and there is a lag at this point,” Stillinger explained.

Stillinger said he received his first-ever death certificate of the year for a family on January 12, thirteen days after the previous online system shut down. DRIVE went live on January 4.

“The reality is that we are in the middle of the pandemic. We currently have a record number of deaths in Indiana in addition to an already busy period of funeral homes and deaths, ”Clayton said. “It has reached almost catastrophic levels if we don’t fix this quickly. “

One of the main reasons a family needs a death certificate is to deal with the affairs of their loved one, including funeral payments, settling an estate, and purchasing an estate. assurance.

“When their loved ones go about their life matters, they have this certified document from the state of Indiana that says, yes you can handle these matters, that person is dead,” Clayton said.

Another major problem is that, without a death certificate, a person cannot be cremated in Indiana, according to state law. A death certificate must be filed with the local county health department and accepted as “genuine” and “good,” according to Clayton, to proceed with the cremation.

In the state of Indiana, there is a 48 hour period that a funeral home must wait after signing a death certificate, before a person can be cremated.

“When you cremate someone, there is no way to reverse the process. It’s final and the DNA and the evidence and what you have can be destroyed, which is why this death certificate is really important, ”Clayton explained.

“The funeral home needs it as part of the cremation process, the other the family to sort out their loved one’s affairs,” he said.

Both Stillinger and Clayton have said that with the pandemic more and more people have chosen to choose cremation.

“Especially with COVID, there have been families who otherwise would not have chosen cremation and they told us that, but they choose the cremation option,” Stillinger said.

“One in two Hoosiers choose to be cremated to death compared to one in 10 12 years ago,” Clayton said. “It’s a big difference and it puts a lot of stress on funeral homes because we are responsible for the extended care of the deceased and we are not the size of Lucas Oil Stadium.”

“We are houses that have been converted, some built from scratch in brick and mortar, and we have sacred and secure areas that we take care of the dead from, but they are not meant to take care of burdens. that extend beyond normal time. limits, ”he explained.

With that in mind, Clayton said the state had approved a “workaround” for cremation cases.

“If there is a death and the doctor is not yet registered in the training system or the training system is not functional, and it is a natural cause of death which is not under the jurisdiction of the coroner, we can call the coroner, who is not biased, public official, ask them to question the attending physician to ensure they will sign a death certificate with a cause of death when presented, ”he explained.

“With the COVID situation, as well as the death certificate situation, the state has enacted a law or a rule that allows coroners to speak with doctors and if it is a cremation situation, do a cremation authorization based on the conversation with the doctor, or as of January 1, nurse practitioners can now sign death certificates, ”Stillinger said.

“We’ve told all the nurse practitioners to go out and sign up because the doctors there have such a backlog,” Stillinger said.

Both said they know the state is working hard to resolve the issues, but hope the issues will be resolved quickly before the backlog grows too large.

“The further we go, we will have a bigger backlog of trying to get death certificates,” Stillinger said.

“I think there’s more risk of mistakes and unfortunately it’s the families that are really going to have to deal with not having them because of financial issues, and you know, move on if they have to. sell a property and stuff like that, they just can’t.

Clayton shared, “This is a very serious situation. It is taken seriously by all levels of government and private enterprise that collaborate with each other. I have high hopes and I am committed.

“I have confidence in the state where they will do it. I don’t know how fast, ”Stillinger said.

The Indiana State Department of Health told FOX59, “Indiana has implemented a new vital recording system called DRIVE, which uses a platform built and hosted by VitalChek because the previous system was ten years old and no longer had the functionality required to meet state requirements. Needs. The new system offers increased security and functionality.

They also wrote, “Any new system will have bugs that need to be fixed, and we work with VitalChek on a daily basis to resolve issues as they are identified. We have also issued guidelines to coroners, local health departments and funeral directors to ensure they are able to move forward with funeral arrangements with families so that there is no no delays. “

FOX59 also contacted the Marion County Coroner’s Office to see if they were having any issues. Marion County Deputy Chief Coroner Alfie Ballew said the delays primarily affect families as they are unable to sign most death certificates.

Clayton also shared that two of Indiana’s largest funeral home providers, both located in central Indiana, have a total of 200 death certificates awaiting certification on Tuesday afternoon.

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