Despite a previously released report and multiple meetings held with the New York City Department of Health over the past three months about problems with its soon to be rolled out system to produce all burial permits as well as birth and death certificates, members of the Jewish and Muslim communities say that their concerns have been almost completely ignored, prompting them to issue advisories about expected burial delays due to the agency’s failure to heed numerous warnings about systemic flaws.
The DOH attempted to replace the current Electronic Vital Events Registration System, known as EVERS, with its new $5.8 million eVital system last October. Multiple failures had the agency disabling eVital within 40 minutes, ultimately taking it down indefinitely just three days later, with massive burial delays taking place during that time. Efforts by Misaskim and Councilman Chaim Deutsch, chairman of the New York City Council’s Jewish Caucus, had the DOH successfully postponing the 48 hour long rollout of the new system from Shemini Atzeres to the weekend of October 12th in addition to reaching an agreement to issue paper death certificates and burial permits instead of postponing all burials during the two day switchover, as previously planned. Even that arrangement has many concerned, with delays of up to five hours in obtaining burial permits common when paper death certificates were issued during last year’s failed eVital rollout.
To date, there are numerous lingering concerns about eVital despite several meetings with the DOH, leaving those who deal with burials in New York City advocating for the release to be postponed until all of the outstanding issues can be resolved.
One of the worries regarding eVital is that it involves a two-step electronic process for all burials that includes an automatic 50 to 60 minute delay from the time a doctor signs a death certificate until it is certified by the DOH and a second delay of equal length for all burial permits to be issued. While those delays can be helpful in instances where changes need to be made to the documentation, they create critical problems for Jewish and Muslim families where expeditious burials are crucial.
“We can be pushing shkiya, trying to make flights that leave for Israel and trying to arrange burials before cemeteries close at 4 PM,” said Yanky Meyer, founder and director of Misaskim. “Those extra delays can often mean that funerals have to be pushed off until the next day, or in the case of funerals in Israel, even longer.”
Meyer noted that DOH officials have said that the process can be expedited by calling the agency’s burial help desk, but doctors are often too busy to call the DOH or are unaware that they can call the agency to pull the paperwork for faster acceptance. Just last week the EVERS system shut down unexpectedly and the results were catastrophic.
“No one was available at the burial help desk, there were numerous cases to be dealt with and there was not a single answer to be gotten from the DOH and that was with a system that worked,” said Meyer. “If there was no help available on the old system, which had been working for years, it is hard to imagine that there will be anyone available to help if and when the new system goes up.”
Another concern raised this past July about eVital that has yet to be addressed is that a significant percentage of doctors have still not signed up for the system, precluding their ability to issue death certificates, adding another layer of delays to the burial process. Equally troubling is that funeral directors who have trained on the system have reported that it crashed multiple times during their training sessions.
“How are we launching a system that hasn’t been fully tested and been proven to work accurately?” asked Meyer. “This system has already failed once before and it is irresponsible to put it out unless we can have complete confidence that it will work as promised.”
Kiydaar Saduddim of Muslim Funeral Services echoed those concerns, stressing the importance of timely burials in the Muslim faith and wondering why the DOH is putting a questionable system in place that could create tremendous problems for grieving families.
“The current system isn’t broken so why are they trying to fix it?” asked Saduddim. “Everything is working well now so why are they introducing something new?
Meyer warned that he fully expects that delays will result if eVital is launched as planned on Friday night, something that would create undue hardships on grieving families.
“We have to be prepared for this,” said Meyer. “Make no mistake about it – any problems that happen here are not the fault of the funeral homes. The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the DOH. Levayas are going to be delayed unless we can manage to push off this launch until the problems with eVital have been corrected.”
Deutsch, who has been working closely with the DOH and Jewish and Muslim burial professionals on the problems with eVital since June, said that it is imperative for the DOH to do its part for members of the city’s faith based communities.
“Our religious obligations should not be used as an experiment to test the system when we all know that there are still unresolved issues,” said Deutsch. “eVital should only be rolled out when the experts in the field are satisfied with the system.”