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Multiple factors could be contributing to delayed death certificates

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 8:32 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - We are continuing to ask questions about what may be causing the delay in death certificates.

As you might imagine, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer on delays. It depends on the cases sometimes. But there’s more happening behind the scenes that’s contributing to these delays for families.

On the same day we received this statement from the State Health Department that the Office of Vital Records is current on death certificates, we’ve now learned the same office presented to state’s coroners at their fall conference, telling them they are around 15 people short on folks who handle death certificates and have been hiring temp staff.

Meanwhile, there’s something to some of those possible delays referenced in their statement... for example, autopsy reports.

“The oldest case that we have is from 2011,” said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell. “And we expected all those, as well as 2012 and 13, should be completed by the end of the year.”

And Tindell says they’re working on changing that by hiring contract pathologists.

“So we’ve developed a plan whereby we’re sending out our oldest cases to a group of doctors in Texas, group of doctors in Tennessee and Arkansas, and possibly West Virginia, even to help us eliminate the backlog,” he explained.

Lauderdale County Coroner Clayton Cobler says it hasn’t been his experience that Office of Vital Records is the hold-up. It’s cases that have to flow through the crime lab or medical examiners office that drag things out.

“It’s not the coroners,” Cobler said. “It’s, you know, above them. This is kind of like you go into JCPenney’s to complain about Sears. It’s two separate entities. I just wish I knew the answer. Other than, you know, throwing money at it, but I don’t know what else to do. We just don’t have enough people.”

Cobler has changed where he’s sending bodies in an attempt to speed up the turnaround.

“I’ve started sending my autopsies to Biloxi,” he said in reference to the state’s second facility. “Because they, they have a lower caseload.”

Another factor that coroners tell us slows everything down are toxicology reports. Rankin County Coroner David Ruth says what once took 6-8 weeks is now taking as much as four months.

We asked both the Commissioner and the coroners about COVID-deaths. All agreed that those aren’t the cases getting held up at the lab. Most of those are being ruled at the hospital or county level.

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