They say the new format to generate death certificates to get necessary burial and cremation permits failed to go online as scheduled Monday.
As a result, funeral directors told Eyewitness News they were threatened with postponing and canceling funerals because many cemeteries or burial sites will not accept bodies or remains without the burial permits from DOH.
Joe Aievoli, a fourth generation funeral director at Aievoli Funeral Home in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, said they have been running around collecting hand-written death certificates from doctors, hospices and hospitals all day, then bringing the death certificates to DOH offices downtown in order to be able to pick up burial permits and conduct funerals and burials Tuesday.
"It's going back to the stone-age" Aievoli said. "Many hospitals don't even have blank death certificates on file any more. We are printing out blanks and driving them around."
Jeff Holcomb, a funeral director at Aievoli, said the medical examiner hand-wrote several death certificates over the weekend just in case the new system didn't go online as planned.
"But they should have left the old system in place, he said. "Instead, all of our records are trapped in the computer system."
He feared they would have to cancel and postpone funerals this week, unless DOH gets the system up and running.
"We had to go down there and get our pictures taken for the new facial recognition system they are moving to, but now the system crashed and we're kind of stuck", Aievoli said.
The system for generating death certificates used to work by funeral directors using their thumbprints.
The DOH said in a statement
"The Health Department is currently implementing important upgrades to our online birth and death certificate system. Because of these enhancements, the service will be unavailable until tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. While we complete the updates, the public can still submit their requests online. Funeral directors in need of a death certificate today have been advised to attend our office at 125 Worth St. and file cases manually by paper. Our hours of operations are from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. this week and we have added capacity to our Burial Desk to answer any questions and address any concerns."
This new system, called "E-Vital," will provide more security for customers, according to DOH, and will include a customer portal so applicants can check the status of their orders online. It will also allow for certification via mobile devices.
Funeral directors said DOH is keeping them up to date on how to proceed. DOH is adding additional personnel, and wrote to funeral directors:
As you are aware, the eVital program has been brought down for maintenance and improvement until 7:30 tonight, Tuesday, October 10th. Please file all new cases manually, by paper using the form and instructions that are attached to this message. The Burial Desk is open 8 a.m. - 10 p.m.
For OCME cases: The OCME will continue to drop to paper and release cases with a paper death certificate. Once the case is completed, the paper death certificate will be made available to the funeral director by OCME staff, when they come to claim the body. Funeral directors may also bring a work copy of the DC from EDRS, if they printed one out prior to EDRS going down. Funeral directors may contact the respective borough ID Unit to determine if a paper death certificate has been issued.
DOH instructions continued with: "For any questions about registration of death certificates funeral directors are to contact the Burial Desk at 212-788-4545 (press option 1 and then 7). Additional staff are supporting calls at this number. "
"We were told the system would be back up tonight at 7:30," Jeff Holcomb said. "Let's hope that's true because if there's a delay, Jewish and Muslim traditions which require immediate burial for death tonight or tomorrow will really be impacted if the proper paperwork is delayed, and families will suffer more stress at a time they are grieving."
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