John Ferrari takes a typewriter with him when he’s on the road for work. Yes, a typewriter.
That’s because Ferrari, licensed funeral director at Ferrari Funeral Home in Schenectady, must fill out in triplicate — using old-fashioned carbon paper — the form required to certify a death. If he doesn’t have the typewriter with him, he loses valuable time in the 72-hour window between a death and the deadline under state law for filing the paperwork with authorities.
New York is one of only a handful of states without the means to record deaths electronically. Populous states like California and Texas have these so-called electronic death registries; so do rural ones such as Montana and North Dakota. And New York City has had its own system in place since 2007.
But not New York, the Empire State, which perplexes Randy McCullough, executive deputy director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association.
The Colonie-based trade group, with more than 900 firms and 3,300 directors as members, has been pushing for the past decade to get the state on board. Last year, as part of the 2012-13 executive budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed having the state Department of Health establish and oversee such a system, and allocated $2.2 million to the effort.
State lawmakers, though, pulled the money before they passed the budget, just as they did with many programs seeking state allocations, in order to close a multibillion-dollar gap.
This year, McCullough’s group has companion bills in the Assembly and Senate to implement an Internet-based system that would pay for itself — through a $20 fee charged to funeral directors each time they seek a burial permit. The fee would be a cost of doing business and could not be passed on to consumers, according to the bills.
But the current legislative session will end this month and no one is talking about an electronic death registry in the same breath with headline issues such as women’s rights, medical marijuana and tax-free business zones. McCullough, however, says he is “cautiously, guardedly optimistic.”
“This literally will transform the way funeral directors do business,” he said. Now, directors — who bear prime responsibility for death certificates — must manually enter required information, get needed signatures from attending physicians and others, and deliver the forms to local registrars of vital statistics by the 72-hour deadline, all while attending to grieving families planning funerals.
Some 95,000 death certificates are processed in the state each year outside the five boroughs of New York City.
An electronic registry also would help the Department of Health, which is responsible for maintaining a central state repository of births and deaths, to report timely data to federal and state agencies for administrative and statistical use.
The cost of such a system for New York was estimated at $6 million a couple of years ago.
Ferrari, whose funeral home is on Union Street, said he’d be happy to pay much more than the modest $20-per-permit fee to support an electronic registry because it would eliminate the paper chase that saps his time as a one-man operation.
He’s grateful he took a typing class in high school, but, at 26, he’s of an age more adept at cellphone and laptop. Funeral homes are rapidly adding websites and Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts, Ferrari said.
“We’re in a modern, progressive world … so why shouldn’t this [registering deaths] change as well?”
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.