Coroners: Delay in death certificates a much bigger problem, DHEC ‘sugar-coated’ issue

Updated: Jan. 26, 2021 at 8:56 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) - The Department of Health and Environmental Control announced last month it would be rolling out a new and enhanced online system for filing death certificates.

But weeks after it began its rollout, local coroners are still handling problems and bottlenecks in the process.

Some WMBF News viewers have reported that DHEC has not been able to issue death certificates since Jan. 7.

RELATED COVERAGE | DHEC experiencing delays with death certificates due to system glitch, officials say

Georgetown County coroner and owner of Ridgeway Funeral Home, Chase Ridgeway, explained problems started after the change-over failed to transfer over critical sign-in information for certifiers to be able to use the system.

“So all these doctors, all these certifiers, all these coroners offices, they had to resubmit to Columbia,” Ridgeway said. “They had to call vital records and get back in the system, which has been the biggest hurdle.”

Ridgeway said funeral homes had issues at the beginning with credentials not working, and that help was hard to reach.

“They couldn’t get in touch with Columbia, because nobody was answering the phone, nobody was emailing anybody back,” he said. “So it was just this backlog of cases to get these death certificates input into the system, and then once we got the death certificate into the system, then we run into the problem with the doctor not being able to sign the death certificate.”

With South Carolina physicians, coroners and funeral home workers working on the frontlines against the pandemic, “they just don’t have time to get these PIN numbers reset, to figure out this new system out, because it is a lot different from the old system,” Ridgeway said.

DHEC officials said their vital records office became aware of the system glitches and immediately contacted both the vendor and users to access and remedy them.

But the problems still continue, according to Horry County Coroner Robert Edge.

“The reaction was that they (DHEC) sugar-coated it; that they’re not telling what the real-life situation is like on the street that everybody’s going through,” Edge said.

Delays in the system have caused delays in closure, because, without a death certificate, a cremation cannot occur.

“Why do you want to keep a family, so to speak, hanging out waiting to have their loved one cremated where they can have some closure,” Edge said. “It’s a matter of taking the inconvenience from them and giving them what they deserve, and giving it to them in a timely manner.”

DHEC told WMBF Investigates the new vendor is Genesis Systems, whose program is used in at least four other states: Colorado, Delaware, Georgia and Texas.

The contract is estimated to cost $900,000, plus yearly maintenance agreement fees, DHEC said.

DHEC said they’d been looking to upgrade their systems for many years, but a contract with another vendor had to be “abandoned” a year ago because their system wouldn’t meet the state’s needs.

DHEC officials said they believed the PIN issues have been fully resolved, but if there are still people having problems, their phone line is open.

“For the most part, (the system process) is somewhat better. Funeral homes are able to get death certificates generated; they’re just not signed. On the coroners’ side of things, most coroners’ offices are now being able to sign death certificates. But as a coroner, we only sign death certificates that are coroner cases. And not everybody that dies is a coroner’s case,” Ridgeway said. “So these cases that, for people who are dying in the hospital, who are being treated for an illness, their doctors are signing those death certificates, and those are the ones that we’re waiting on.”

Edge said the speed at correcting these issues has been at a glacial pace.

“I can’t understand why whoever the vendor was can’t straighten these problems out within a matter of a few days. If it’s rewriting something, or what they need to do to straighten it out,” Edge said. “And I guess it goes back to DHEC and whoever they selected for the vendor. Somebody’s just not taking care of business.”

DHEC said they’ve addressed funeral home billable account matters, and that printing and other problems are expected to be fully resolved by the end of the week.

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