NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A week after Texas launched a new statewide reporting system to collect more detailed birth and death records, funeral directors, doctors and medical examiners offices reported long delays obtaining death certificates from the state.
The wait for the paperwork, stretching out weeks in some cases, was slowing insurance claims and mortuary services like cremations.
Dallas County’s medical examiner office, anticipating possible problems, borrowed a trailer from the Department of Homeland Security meant for disasters, in the event it ran out of space to hold bodies.
It hasn’t been used yet, but the office was full at one point early Monday.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said Tuesday it wasn’t aware of any system-wide technical issues with the new service. It attributed most continuing delays to issues with users who weren’t familiar with how to use the new system.
The state shut down its previous reporting system December 28, and launched the new web-based TxEVER system January 1, to handle all birth and death records.
Funeral director Jon Thompson said he learned about the switch just a couple days before it happened. Because it occurred during what is traditionally one of the busiest seasons of the year, he went into his office in Fort Worth New Year’s Day to try to start processing certificates for families.
“My tab I needed to start death certificates, was non-existent,” he said. “I tried to call the help desk they have available for us for the system, and it gave me a busy signal all of that day.”
He also found he no longer had access to anything entered before the new year.
Tuesday, he received the first reply to an email he sent to the system help desk on January 1.
Without a death certificate, families are often unable to begin insurance claims, access bank accounts or complete cremation.
“I have to wait to cremate them until the state figures out the system, the doctors figure out the system, and we’re all are on the same page,” Thompson said. “That’s hard on a family.”
When Betsy Kirk’s uncle died a week before Christmas, she said her funeral home told her there could be a delay getting the death certificate because of the holidays. But the normal five business day wait, turned into 10, and then stretched into the new year.
“It made you sad every time you had to pick up the phone and say can I please have this document,” she said. “You have no feedback, no direction, no guidance, and no one can tell you a date of closure.”
The lack of answers has triggered a flood of calls into county medical examiners offices from residents, doctors and funeral homes looking for help. While offices in Tarrant and Bexar counties said calls were nonstop, Harris County said it had worked through some technical difficulties and continued the certification process with no significant delays.
The Tarrant County Clerk’s Office said it had resolved a problem with not being able to print records. It was still having difficulty accepting birth and death records from the state.
Collin County’s Clerk’s Office had a message on its website that it could not issue birth certificates for any births outside the county, due to technical difficulties with the system.
DSHS said 20,000 users had been able to register on the new system and at least 12,000 death records had been entered over the past week.
The office said it did road shows, and training sessions leading up to the launch, and a number of videos were posted on its website Tuesday to walk user through the new system.
While some doctors offices said they waited hours on the phone initially for help with the system, DSHS said call wait times were at about 30 minutes.
Steven Kurtz, the chief medicolegal death investigator in the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office said the office was a test site for the system this year and identified a number of issues before the launch. They were extensive enough Kurtz said, that the office fully expected the January roll-out to be delayed, but the state pressed forward.
Kurtz said Tuesday several doctors in the office still weren’t able to obtain PIN numbers to allow them to do medical certifications needed on death certificates.
For a system intended to provide more accurate data on vital records, Kurtz said there were also concerns about accuracy due to information including place of death, and date of death being initiated by funeral providers now rather than medical examiners.