“It has really been tough,” said long- time Town of Brookhaven clerk Donna Lent, expressing the state of her employees, both physically and mentally.
In addition to the increase of deaths due to COVID-19 causing an influx in a need for certificates, the office has also been operating with about one-third of their employees due to a town-wide mandatory reduction in the workforce. The office is still open five days a week; however, Monday nights, which were usually open to provide extra hours, have been cut.
This April 2020, the office, according to Lent, saw 647 deaths compared to last April’s 267. Thus far in May, there have been 142 deaths compared to 96 this same time last year.
“The numbers are beginning to lessen, which is a good thing for a lot of reasons. First, there are not as many families suffering and dealing with the loss of a loved one, and at the same time [the workload] is becoming more manageable for us,” said Lent of the slow decline in increased death certificates.
Mondays and Tuesdays, she said, are the craziest; allowing time for doctors and funeral homes to report deaths throughout the weekend, the office can see an increase of about 40 deaths on any given Monday or Tuesday.
Fortunately, a few years back, she said, New York State implemented an electronic filing system for doctors and funeral homes to process the deaths online through the clerk’s offices, making it specifically easier in times like these.
The process? Basically, someone passes away and a doctor must report the death to the funeral director, who then files it with the town. The process usually must be completed within 72 hours, but due to the recent epidemic Brookhaven Town has requested doctors and funeral directors file within 24 hours after death. Whether someone is buried or cremated determines the process the town clerk’s office must take to confirm the death before creating the certificate and filing it.
“There are a few processes that have to be done and it takes some time before we can file it,” said Lent, explaining that she is also the only clerk on Long Island, if not the entire state, who created an in-house death certificate ordering sys- tem, which has also helped speed up the process for grieving families. After the certificate is complete, family members are able to order and pay for it online via the town’s website. The certificate is then mailed to the provided address.
“We typically have a one- to two-day turnaround time for getting death certificates to families,” Lent added, explaining that the certificates provide proof so that families can get much-needed claims filed and life insurance policies issued.
But the work doesn’t stop there. The office still sees death certificate correction requests, in addition to other services like disability parking permits and dog licenses.
“We deal with a myriad of different services, but this one has really taken priority,” Lent noted of the death certificates. “It has just been really crazy.”