FOX59 Investigates: Death certificate delay costing family thousands

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INDIANAPOLIS - An Indianapolis family, still mourning the loss of a loved one, is losing thousands of dollars waiting for a death certificate.

It's hard enough to lose a child, but when Mary Day's son Tom suddenly passed away, she never thought she'd also face a financial hardship.

Tom died of cardiac arrest on February 2nd in his east side home. It is now almost seven weeks later and his family is still waiting on his death certificate.

"Without the death certificate, we're unable to get anything transferred into our name," said Day.

That means she can't sell her son's house or truck. His bills are piling up. And without his insurance policy, Day and her husband have already spent about $5,000 out-of-pocket.

"My husband and I are both in our 80's and we're living on social security and our bank accounts can't last too much longer," she said. "I had no idea that this could even be a problem."

It is.

A FOX59 investigation exposed some Hoosier families were suffering through serious delays in obtaining death certificates forcing them to wait up to several months to put their loved ones to rest. Our investigation is prompting lawmakers and the Governor to ask tough questions about why this is happening and who is responsible.

FOX59 dug into Day's situation and found that Tom's primary care physician refused to sign his death certificate. His case went to the Marion County Coroner's Office. The staff issued his family a 'pending certificate' to allow his body to be cremated. However, now his case is on their waiting list; a list where coroner cases have priority.

Chief Deputy Coroner Alfarena Ballew told FOX59, Day's problem is a direct result of the bigger issue of doctors dodging their duty to sign the dotted line. That has created backlogs for her office.

"We've seen an increase of probably about 20%-30% of cases that we are reviewing that have not actually been coroner cases," said Ballew.

She said her office would contact Day and make sure she got her son's death certificate as soon as possible.

"It's a vicious circle really," Day said about all the problems she has seen reported on FOX59 recently.  "I think the whole system needs to be fixed."

Hoosiers in similar situations should report their complaints to the State Department of Health or the Medical Licensing Board.

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