Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 5, 2012

Residents could wait for death certificates

Officials criticize Miami Co. Registrar Office, which will close five days this month.

By Carson Gerber
Tribune staff writer

Peru — The Miami County Registrar Office, issuer of birth and death certificates, will be closed five days this month due to an understaffed health department, but county officials say the action is unnecessary and could potentially delay cremations.

The county health department, located inside the Miami County courthouse, announced Monday it will be closed Dec. 10, 11, 19, 20 and 28. County Health Officer Dr. Rafik Farag said only one person is trained to issue certificates, and she’ll be gone those days.

“It’s a specific job with a lot of responsibility,” he said. “The problem is we just don’t have enough people.”

With the registrar office closed on a Monday and Tuesday, County Commissioner Josh Francis said people could potentially wait five days before they could get a certificate.

“People are going to have to wait almost a week,” he said. “If someone needs to be cremated, you shouldn’t have to wait that long for a certificate.”

State law requires a death certificate before a body can be cremated. However, Farag said he could sign off on cremations before a death certificate was issued.

To solve the issue, Francis said the department should cross-train its employees to work in the registrar office, or hire a part-time employee to ensure the doors remain open.

Farag said he’s currently working with commissioners to solve the problem, but hasn’t yet found a solution on how to keep the office open.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to resolve the situation,” he said. “We’re trying to work with everybody.”

Ken Severson, media relations coordinator for the Indiana State Department of Health, said although the office closure may be inconvenient, it doesn’t violate any state codes.

“How the local health department is run is for the local health board and local health officer to decide,” he said. “If they want to close the vital records area for five days a month, that is their decision.”

But Commissioner Craig Boyer said the closure isn’t fair to taxpayers, whom he said are entitled to receive birth and death certificates during normal business hours.

“We run a courthouse that is supposed to be open to the people,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to give service to the public. This is something we need to step up to and take care of.”

Carson Gerber may be reached by phone at 765-854-6739, or by email at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.