- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Walking through shelves packed with documents memorializing North Carolina’s past, Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday promoted his administration’s effort to modernize the state’s death records.

The governor, his budget director and the Health and Human Services secretary visited the nondescript vital records building to highlight his budget proposal that includes nearly $2 million to help create an electronic death records reporting system. North Carolina is just one of four states without such a system, according to officials.

“We’re still in the horse-and-buggy era,” with death records, McCrory said.

The state Vital Records Office processes 83,000 death records annually using a paper-intensive method that can take 90 days to complete a new certificate.

The governor’s group visited two vaults of books containing certificates for those born in North Carolina from 1913 to 1935 and death records since the 1980s. Other certificates considered historical are held by the state Office of Archives and History in paper and on microfilm.



North Carolina births have been reported through a paperless system since 2010. An electronic system for deaths would make record-keeping more efficient, reduce fraud and respond to citizen requests more quickly, according to McCrory. An electronic reporting system also could reduce the issuance time to seven days, speeding up end-of-life issues such as wills and benefits.

“It’s the right thing to do toward the citizens and the families to settle their estate, to be able to allow them to move on with the most difficult journey of life, which is death,” Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos said.

The current death report process begins with a funeral director filling out a form and taking it to a physician to sign. It next goes to the local health department and is ultimately mailed to Raleigh before the official recording.

All told, a new reporting system would take nearly four years to build, Wos said, and cost more than $5 million, requiring money beyond the two year budget being debated.

Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, a House budget writer on health matters, said later Tuesday that she and her colleagues haven’t looked closely at the request but said the current system’s shortcomings will be weighed with other priorities in the Health Department.

Although the death records system spending won’t immediately create net savings, the recommendation “just provides better customer service to the citizens of the state,” State Budget Director Lee Roberts said.

The Department of Health and Human Services also estimates it could save the state’s 2,200 funeral homes at least $6.8 million combined in travel time, personnel costs and lost productivity because directors will need less time to locate physicians and transport records around town.

The tour also highlighted McCrory’s push to renovate aging government buildings, particularly in downtown Raleigh, and preserve state history. The early 20th century birth records in the vault have little protecting them beyond a fire suppression system. And the process of digitizing all records is still way off in the future.

“We still have a long way to go, but we’re trying to prioritize those areas that are most vulnerable,” McCrory said.

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