Burials, Other Services Delayed As Funeral Homes Grapple With Arizona’s New Death Registration System

Published: Monday, October 16, 2017 - 4:30pm
Updated: Monday, October 16, 2017 - 4:38pm

(Photo by Sky Schaudt - KJZZ)
A casket is prepared before a viewing at a funeral home.

The Department of Health Services rolled out a new online system this month to register deaths. It’s a digital way for funeral homes statewide to take care of the paperwork involved in burying and cremating the deceased, and replaces a paper and fax system.

But the new system hasn’t rolled out smoothly, causing some funeral homes to delay burying and cremating bodies. A survey by Maricopa County officials found more than 200 delayed burials and cremations, according to the Associated Press.

Mark Vining is the owner of Vining Funeral Home in Safford. He said after the rollout he realized some doctors were not in the database and in some cases weren’t even aware of it.

“We’ve had entire clinics here in our community who weren’t in the database,” Vining said. “And visiting with friends and partners in the funeral industry — the same thing in Maricopa County, Pima County. Doctors were not made aware, were not brought on board.”

Those doctors haven’t been able to certify deaths, which Vining said is causing a delay of days in work that he’s normally able to finish in one day. He’s also had issues filing the proper paperwork to bury someone who passed away out of state.

“That was not even thought about in this system. It took us five days to finally unwind all the mess, get to the bottom of what we could do to obtain the proper paperwork and by that time, I’ll be quite honest, the burial had taken place,” Vining said.

The old system was stopped before the new one began on Oct. 2. Vining acknowledged the new system is slowly improving as DHS works out the bumps, but he wishes it had been rolled out more slowly, with some overlap with the old system.

Colby Bower is an assistant director with DHS. He said over the last couple weeks they’ve been working to get more doctors who certify deaths into the system. By the end of last week they’d gotten over that hurdle, and the number they’re inputting each day is shrinking. Bower said the next step is getting everyone used to using the system.

“We had multiple trainings with the funeral homes, but actually being trained on something and sitting down when a family is there in a funeral home and trying to work through that system — those are two different things the first time through,” Bower said.

He said there have been concerns from funeral homes about reaching capacity due to delays, but DHS liaisons have worked with businesses one on one to help out.

“We are calling the funeral homes every day to see what their capacity issues are,” Bower said. “There’s just under 200 funeral homes in the state, and so we’re able to reach out to them every day, find out what their high priority cases are, and then help them work those through the system.”

Counties can also decide whether to allow their funeral homes to fallback to paper temporarily while they learn the new system.  

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