Log In

Reset Password

Another relative criticises delays in death certificates

Warrington Sheldon Simons, who died on March 22, 2019, did not have his certificate of death officially signed until March 12, 2020, according to his sister, Nelda Simons (Photograph supplied)

A senior who waited almost a year for her brother’s death certificate has joined a chorus of criticism over delays in issuing the documents.

But a funeral home director with 16 years’ experience said a lag of nine months or more had been routine in the past – and this year’s pattern of three to four month’s delay was an improvement for deaths referred to the Coroner’s Office.

Nelda Simons, whose brother Warrington Simons died in March 2019, said she waited until March this year for a certificate showing that he had died of chronic pulmonary disease.

Ms Simons, 72, said: “Losing a loved one is difficult enough.

“Constantly following up because of something administrative or bureaucratic makes it worse.”

Ms Simons said she had no idea why getting a “straightforward” certificate had taken so long.

Mr Simons, 77, had spent the day shopping and meeting friends, but was found dead on March 22 last year by his sister, who lived with him in Sandys.

Ms Simons said: “If my brother had been sick, or died in the hospital, or even died at home because of an illness, it wouldn’t have been as much of a shock.

“The challenge was not only coping with that shock of finding my brother dead, but the way it was prolonged, trying to find out what he died from. The emotional stress from reliving it was really challenging.”

Juan Wolffe, the senior magistrate, speaking after several families came forward last month with complaints about delays, said the coroner’s office processed cases inside 48 hours when an autopsy report arrived from the hospital’s pathology department.

Aubrey Pennyman, the Registrar General whose office issues death certificates, insisted last week that his department was not the cause of the holdups.

Ms Simons said she had no idea why getting a “straightforward” certificate had taken so long.

She added one of her brother’s close friends died during the wait to learn the cause of his death.

The hospital’s pathology department said last week that routine autopsies took about 30 days after a Smith’s woman condemned the 11-month wait in the wake of her son’s death from diabetes and a Devonshire woman said she waited three months for her husband’s certificate after he died from an aneurysm.

Pathologists said more complex cases might takes three months, with toxicology reports taking longer.

Ms Simons said her wait had taken a toll.

She added: “When you have to wait, you start to question, could I have done something? Did he call out to me in the night?”

Death certificates are also required to settle a dead person’s estate.

Ms Simons thanked the Pearman Funeral Home in Somerset for handling the request for the document and provision of its own proof of death, which allowed her to deal with her brother’s bank account.

Ms Simons said: “Jo-Dina Pearman at the funeral home told me she had experiences where it took up to a year in the past. She said that it happened particularly when someone died at home.”

Ms Pearman, the director of Pearman Funeral Home in Somerset, added waits of up to four months this year were “much faster than normal”.

She said: “It seems to be taking much less time recently. In past years, it could take maybe nine months to a year.”

Clyde Wilson, the hospital’s chief of pathology, said the autopsy for Mr Simons had been signed off on March 3 and to the Coroner’s Office the same day.

Dr Wilson added he could not release further information because of patient confidentiality.

But he said improved communications between pathology and the coroner’s office had started, which included weekly update reports.

He added all completed autopsy reports were now with the Coroner’s Office.

Dr Wilson said: “Stakeholders involved in this process have been invited to a meeting next week to see if further improvements can be made and within pathology we will continue to work hard to meet our expected deadlines.”

Dr Wilson said toxicology added significant time to autopsies, because the hospital had to use external labs, either in Bermuda or overseas.

Autopsies are carried out at the coroner’s request by the Bermuda Hospitals Boards’ two histopathologists, who also review samples from living patients for illnesses such as cancer.

They reviewed about 1,000 gynaecological cytology specimens, 656 non-gynaecological specimens and 5,528 surgical pathology specimens, as well as undertaking 114 autopsies, last year.

Dr Wilson said investigations included an examination of people’s circumstances before death and past medical history, with tests including histology and toxicology.

Unexpected findings mean tests get reviewed, with medical research undertaken to confirm the pathologist’s conclusions.

Dr Wilson said even an apparent obvious cause of death “does not always mean it is a routine autopsy”.

He added: “If there is no physical evidence to identify a cause of death, a range of tests may have to take place, including toxicology, and this can take time.

“We understand it can be a difficult wait, and has an impact on families trying to finalise wills and finances.

“Being as sure as we can about the cause is important, however.”

Dr Wilson said: “These answers are often something the family want to know, and the coroner will want to be as confident as possible about the cause before signing the death certificate.”

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published November 13, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated November 12, 2020 at 6:58 pm)

Another relative criticises delays in death certificates

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon