New system to speed up death registration

Funeral directors won’t have to lug around typewriters to record death information once the state’s

Funeral directors won’t have to lug around typewriters to record death information once the state’s electronic death registry becomes law.

The state Legislature quietly approved the creation of the registry in the waning days of the legislative session, which ended last week. The digital filing system will be funded by a $20 burial and removal permit that funeral directors are more than willing to pay for the new convenience.

Current law requires funeral directors to file a death certificate with a local registrar within 72 hours of a person’s death, a process that is complicated by the search for vital information, which can send funeral directors scouring the state in search of a doctor’s signature.

“I’m a one-man operation, and so for us, that is time taken away from serving our families,” said John Ferrari, owner and funeral director of Ferrari Funeral Home in Schenectady. A digital system, with doctors able to sign remotely, he said, “will make life a lot easier for us funeral directors.”

Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, who carried the bill in the Assembly, credited the New York State Funeral Directors Association for rallying behind the modernization effort. “This is about making government less bureaucratic and more user-friendly,” Steck said.

Mark T. Phillips, co-owner and funeral director of William J. Burke & Sons Funeral Home in Saratoga Springs, called the current system archaic. He said the change was long overdue and will ensure that vital statistics are correct and that death certificates can now be filed in a timely manner.

According to the bill memorandum, 41 other states already have a similar system in place.

The new system will be in effect in 2015, which is expected to allow plenty of time for funeral homes to modernize their infrastructure if they haven’t done so already. Ferrari said the transition will be easy, as it basically consists of owning a computer, and he is looking forward to the day he can stop traveling with his typewriter and buying ink for it.

“It will take another year of typewriters, which is fine, because we’re eventually going to serve our families more efficiently,” he said.

The current system has been particularly difficult because of the 72-hour deadline to file a death certificate, said Steven Basinait, funeral director with the Glenville Funeral Home. “If a person dies after 3 or 4 o’clock on a Friday … we are running around Monday morning to get the death certificate,” he said.

To avoid that hassle and have more time with clients, Basinait said, will be worth the $20 fee.

That is also the position of the New York State Funeral Directors Association, which supports using the fee to establish the state’s registration system. The state anticipates raising about $2.9 million annually to create and operate the system.

There’s no question the fee is worth it, said Phillips. “It’s not a tax,” he said. “It’s the cost of doing business … and I imagine most funeral homes will absorb the cost just because of the convenience of the new system.”

The proposal now requires the signature of Gov. Andrew Cuomo to become law.

Categories: Business, Schenectady County

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