Dozens of grieving families are being forced to wait to lay their loved ones to rest due to a glitch in new software just launched by the Arizona Department of Health Services.
The software known as the Database Application for Vital Statistics or D.A.V.E for short was just launched by the state last Monday. State health officials said the program was intended to streamline the process to get death and birth certificates and put everything online so people would not have to physically go to government offices to get those documents.
Before the big launch, dozens of funeral home directors pleaded with the state to slow down the launch, as they predicted many problems would arise as people learned how to use the new system.
Samuel Bueler, the funeral director of Wyman Cremation and Funeral Chapel was one of them.
"We really, really implored with the state, can you take a second look at this to avoid having a disaster on their hands. We sounded the clarion call, but clearly, it was not heard or fell on deaf ears, that's the way it feels," said Bueler.
He added that the problems caused since the launch date were much worse than anyone could have predicted.
A huge delay in getting death certificates issued meant many families were unable to plan burial or cremation services for loved ones.
Sandy Peterson who just lost her beloved aunt Pat Scales, was one of them. Her aunt has been lying in a mortuary awaiting her burial for the last eight days. Peterson was waiting for a death certificate so she could transfer her aunt's body to Texas, where she would be laid to rest.
"I keep on hearing the doctor can't get a password to get on the system. It really is a very emotional time for us. For them not to have a better handle on something as crucial and critical and as emotional as this in advance, and know for sure it's going to work, I can't imagine why they would try and implement something if they haven't tested it," said Peterson.
While state officials said they had been testing the software for three years, many funeral directors said they felt they were not properly trained. Bueler had a backlog of about eight death certificates he was still waiting for. That was eight families who were unable to proceed with funeral plans.
"They didn't really even run a test with all of the funeral homes on it," said Bueler.
Ron Thornton, the funeral director of the Peace Chapel Funeral Home said the state had put a very big burden on funeral homes who are dealing with families at some of the most heartbreaking times in their lives.
Some funeral homes were doing mock funerals because the backlog of cremations was getting so long, and family members could no longer wait, or had family in town, so were forced to proceed with services.
"The doctors are not even registered on the system yet. Maybe there are 400 registered but we have like 4,000 doctors that are not, you know what I mean," said Thornton.
His small funeral home had a backlog of seven death certificates, yet to come in.
Bueler who also sat on at the state board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers said he was hearing frustrations from funeral home directors all over the state.
"I have never seen such a fiasco getting permits for families and seeing families suffer because of incompetence at a state level."
ABC15 reached out to the Department of Health Services for an interview. A spokesman said they were unable to go on camera but issued this statement to us:
"We know dealing with the loss of a loved one is a very stressful and difficult time. On October 7th, the Arizona Department of Health Services launched a new online death registration system which provides many benefits, including online ordering of birth and death certificates. The system will ultimately allow for permits to be issued more quickly. We’re aware of minor glitches that initially occurred at the launch of this new system. Resolving any issues is a top priority for the Department and we are working diligently to rectify the concerns, including expanding support staff and enhancing training until the issues are resolved.
In order to respect the schedule of families and loved ones, the Department is working directly with funeral homes and physicians and has set up a 24/7 call center in order to clear any delays. We encourage any families that are experiencing delays or need expedited arrangements to contact ADHS and provide information by going online to azhealth.gov or by calling 602-542-1025 so that we can help resolve any issues."