Editorial: Death certificates system needs to improve
BY World's Editorials Writers
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
6/13/12 at 3:04 AM
No one thinks much about the state Medical Examiner's Office until there is a death in the family. For the past few years, slow turnaround times for death certificates from that agency have compounded the grief that families experience. Delays hold up life insurance, banking and other paperwork. Up to six months is far too long for families to wait on a death certificate.
That situation is changing. The Oklahoma State Department of Health began implementing its Registering Oklahoma Vital Event Records system in 2011 in Oklahoma City, and in Tulsa in March. Eventually, the Health Department, ME's office, funeral homes and doctors all will use ROVER.
Sue Bordeaux, programs manager for the Health Department's vital records division, says the system already is speeding up the process. We certainly hope so. One problem with implementation of the new system, however, was that the ME had not received funding to hire additional physicians and clerical staff to input data and to process cases faster.
In recent years, the ME's Office has had myriad problems, including loss of its accreditation. Fortunately, the office is improving under Chief Medical Examiner Eric Pfeifer, hired last year.
But he can only do so much. Only five assistant medical examiners handle about 18,000 referred cases per year. The appropriate autopsy caseload is about 250 cases per year. The ME's staff handles two or three times that caseload.
The Legislature finally has shaken loose money to hire more personnel, but there still are too few doctors to keep up with the caseload, and it takes time to hire qualified personnel. In the meantime the ROVER system should streamline the process.
Pfeifer is correct when he says there simply aren't enough people to get out the work in a timely fashion. It's long past time for that to change.
Original Print Headline: Death certificates