PHOENIX (AP) — Funeral directors, physicians and government officials are struggling to implement Arizona's new online system to register deaths and generate death certificates, creating a backlog of bodies at funeral homes that prompted one health official to warn that the county could be forced to use refrigerated-truck storage.
Some funeral directors have had to delay burying and cremating the deceased because of confusion and technical problems since the state Department of Health Services' new database went live Oct. 2, The Arizona Republic reported. The database replaced a fax-based system.
The department acknowledged there have been problems and delays, and it has temporarily allowed the counties that include Phoenix and Tucson and a third county, Cochise, to use paper records to obtain processing permits for burials and cremations.
"You know there are going to be bumps with a new IT (information technology) system," said Dr. Cara Christ, the department's director. "We knew there were some issues. The vendors have responded very quickly."
Dr. Bob England, Maricopa County's public health director, told state officials in an Oct. 8 email there were fears that funeral homes could exceed capacity and that the county might have to activate a mass-fatality plan to use refrigerator-truck storage in a vacant lot across the street from the medical examiner's office.
"That would be highly visible. We'll be wheeling bodies back and forth across 8th Avenue, need to re-route the Juror Parking, and it will become a national news story," England said in the email.
While a survey completed Tuesday by Maricopa County officials found more than 200 delayed burials and cremations and indicated 20 of 54 funeral homes weren't accepting additional bodies, state officials said they only found six of 183 funeral homes statewide at capacity and 12 families who experienced delays involving a dead loved one.
State officials said they sought the new system to make it easier for people to order vital records, including birth and death certificates. The plan is to allow the vital records to be ordered online rather than in person at a government office.
Implementation of the new system changed how physicians certify deaths and the way funeral homes obtain permits for burials and cremations.
The state held online training sessions such as webinars and hands-on training on Sept. 11.
State officials said they tested the system before the Oct. 2 launch. But they decided against a pre-launch trial run with funeral homes because that would have imposed technical challenges of running two systems.
Sam Bueler, funeral director of Wyman Cremation and Burial Chapel in Mesa, said the state's training for funeral directors, doctors and others has been inadequate.
Mark Vining, owner of Vining Funeral Home in Safford, said mock funerals with empty caskets or urns have been held in Arizona when mortuaries weren't able to obtain timely permits.
"It's been nothing short of a chaotic mess," Vining said. "The state wasn't prepared."