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State making changes after Indiana families experience delays in getting death certificates

ISDH working on a more timely fashion
Francis Max Pettigrew.jpg
Posted at 12:35 PM, Jan 22, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Department of Health is making changes after hundreds of Indiana families say they are experiencing delays in getting their loved ones' death certificates.

Tim Pettigrew is still waiting on his father’s death certificate.

Francis Max Pettigrew, 88, died at an Indianapolis hospital on Dec. 10 after a long-term illness.

“To settle his accounts and his estate, I need his death certificate,” Tim said. “We still don’t have the death certificate. It’s been rather frustrating.”

When a loved one dies, an Indiana certificate of death is crucial for the family left to pick up the pieces.

“It's a legal record that the person is in fact deceased,” said Andy Clayton, executive director of the Indiana Funeral Directors Association. “Families need these records to settle the affairs of their loved one, like unlocking a bank account, changing the title on a car, getting insurance proceeds, retirement proceeds."

On the first of 2021, Indiana launched a new birth and records system called Drive, which is hosted by Vitalchek.

The previous system was a decade old and the new one is meant to offer more security and functionality.

Clayton said for the new system to work, doctors, coroners, and funeral directors all must be registered for them to authorize a death

"If one of them is missing that's key to that particular record, the record can't go any further-and who pays is Hoosier families,” Clayton said.

"The main issue people are having is that some physicians who need to sign off on death certificates haven't registered for the system," a statement from the Indiana State Department of Health read.

In fact, only 27% of expected users have signed up for Vitalchek including doctors, funeral directors, and coroners, according to ISDH.

WRTV Investigates reached out to the Indiana State Medical Association which represents doctors.

"Through our e-newsletters, print publications and via social media, we've shared information from the Indiana Department of Health, informing member physicians about the state's new vital records system, and encouraged them to register,” said Steve Cooke, director of communications at the Indiana State Medical Association.

Clayton said the delay is hurting the state’s more than 600 funeral homes who are often paid by insurance proceeds that are now held up without a death certificate.

"We have several thousand families in Indiana right now who are waiting on death records because our new death record system unveiled the first of January is struggling right now,” Clayton said. “There are records being created, but we are still way behind."

So, what is being done to fix this problem and help families get their death certificates?

WRTV asked Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box at Thursday’s news conference.

"We are in the process right now of developing in the next day a process by which we will be able to work with our local health departments and funeral directors across the state and be able to get those out in a more timely fashion,” Box said.

ISDH is providing 24-hour approval of accounts and has issued guidance to coroners, local health departments, and funeral directors to ensure that they are able to move forward with funeral arrangements with families so that there are no delays.

ISDH is also working with Vitalchek to address issues as they’re identified.

The state also offered multiple trainings since last summer to help physicians get registered and guide funeral directors and coroners through the process.

"We are going to do a full-court press again with our partners at the hospital association to see if we can't do that because there definitely is a delay,” Box said. “We are working to address that and feel like in the next week or two we will have the kinks worked out.”

If you’re having trouble getting a death certificate, you can work with your funeral home director, contact your state legislator, or contact the Indiana State Department of Health at 317-233-2700.