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Woman’s agony over nine-month wait for son’s death certificate

Senior magistrate: Juan Wolffe

An elderly woman whose son died of diabetes said yesterday she was devastated by a nine month wait for a death certificate.

The woman, from Smith’s, who contacted The Royal Gazette after a report of a three-month delay, said: “To me, he hadn’t passed.

“There was nothing I could hold onto for comfort or closure.”

She said her son’s ashes were held at an undertaker’s for almost a year because of the lack of the death certificate.

The woman, who asked not to be named, added: “There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t expect the knock on the door or the phone to ring.

“He wasn’t gone. Even though I saw him dead, it still was not closure.”

The Smith’s woman said her 62-year-old son had died last year on September 20 – after Hurricane Humberto knocked out her phone and electricity.

Police came to her door to break the news.

She said doctors told her son, a type 1 diabetic, had died at home from heart failure as a result of his chronic illness.

The woman, 82, added: “What could be a more all encompassing cause of death than that? How could it take nine months just to get that piece of paper?”

The woman said she spent months going “back and forth” between clerks at the coroner’s office and the pathology department.

She added: “At one point, I was told by the hospital that they were short on typists, which sent me into hysteria. I was so frustrated, I didn’t know who to lash out at. By this stage, it was Covid time.”

The woman said the funeral home notified her in June that the paperwork had come through.

She added: “Anybody who has gone through what I went through can see there’s something wrong with this picture.

“Suppose my son had an estate, and I had to rely on that to put a roof over my head?”

She added that, given her age, it was possible she could have died during the nine month holdup.

Juan Wolffe, the senior magistrate who has responsibility for the coroner’s office, said it was incorrect to blame the coroner for the earlier three-month delay and that the office did not have a backlog.

Mr Wolffe said: “For your edification, the coroner’s office does not process or sign death certificates. That is the remit of the Registrar General’s office.”

Mr Wolffe, who offered condolences, said there was “no backlog in the coroner’s office in respect of any information that should be sent to the Registrar General’s office” – adding that the coroner’s office processed the information inside 48 hours of a report’s arrival from the hospital.

Mr Wolffe said it was “grossly unfair” to place “any blame on the coroner’s office for any death certificates being delayed”.

He said the coroner’s office passed on the cause of death after the hospital supplied the autopsy results – which are also used to decide if an inquest was needed.

The news came after a Devonshire widow hit out in September after almost three months with no death certificate after her husband died of an aneurysm on July 27 – but Mr Wolffe said the coroner’s office did not get the man’s autopsy report until October 21.

Clyde Wilson, the hospital’s chief of pathology, said the two departments would improve their communications to avoid further delays.

Death certificates are needed to settle a dead person’s estate and both women said the wait of months had compounded their grief.

The Bermuda Hospitals Board said “routine” autopsies should be completed and the report signed off in 30 days, but more complex autopsies that required tests could take “about three months”.

Dr Wilson added: “When toxicology reports are required as part of the autopsy, this can take several months more, but this is not a timeline BHB can control as the tests by their nature do take time and are not carried out by BHB.”

He said that in the case of the Devonshire man, the autopsy report was ready on August 25 – inside a month of his death.

Dr Wilson added: “We are sorry that the coroner’s office was not immediately alerted to the fact the report was complete on this date.

“When we received a request for updates on a number of autopsies in September, we queried with the coroner’s office whether this report had been sent to them.

“The list that was subsequently sent back to us did not include the individual’s name so we presumed it had been sent.

“We did not hear from the coroner’s office requesting the autopsy report again until last week at which point it was immediately forwarded.”

Dr Wilson said: “To improve our process going forward, we will always scan and e-mail the report once completed, and will work with the coroner’s office to see if we can further improve communication between the two offices so we know more promptly if they have not received an autopsy report.”

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Published October 29, 2020 at 4:11 pm (Updated October 29, 2020 at 4:12 pm)

Woman’s agony over nine-month wait for son’s death certificate

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