Photo by Thinkstock/chameleonseye
Longtime Carlsbad resident Jim Majeski thought he had it all worked out for when either he or his wife of 65 years passed on. Prepaid and preplanned cremation, he thought, would help ease the family’s loss.
Jim’s wife, Nancy Majeski, 83, passed away January 31 at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas. As of February 23, her body still rested at Greenwood Crematorium in San Diego, and the family is without a death certificate.
Jim’s oldest son, Ed Majeski, came in from Texas, arriving in time to say goodbye to his mom, never thinking he would still be here a month later. He spent a puzzling amount of time tracking down the death certificate, speaking with the hospital, the county clerk/recorder’s office, the mortuary, and other agencies, to no avail.
“I’m about to go postal,” Ed said in a phone interview February 22. After hearing Ed’s story, I spent several hours that afternoon trying to clarify the bureaucratic chain of custody for a death certificate. I spoke to the hospital, two ER docs, the San Diego County Clerk/Recorder’s office, California Dept. of Public Health, Office of Vital Records, and even a friend who is the elected clerk/recorder in a small California county.
By 4:00 p.m., I was also frustrated, getting a slightly different story from everyone I talked to and having been on hold with one agency for 22 minutes, only to be disconnected while being forwarded to a spokesperson. I found myself begging one of my elected state representatives for inside-agency phone numbers (he did).
Then the ball got rolling.
In an early-morning email on February 23 from Scripps, public relations manager Keith Darcé stated death certificates always start out with a worksheet from a mortuary. “Scripps Encinitas never received a death certificate worksheet from a mortuary for Mrs. Majeski. In our efforts to assist this family, staff members have reached out to the mortuary to try to find out why we never received the worksheet.”
A returned call from Greenwood further clarified the situation. Manager Melody said in this case Greenwood was providing the cremation service for another mortuary. Melody identified Smart Cremation in Kearny Mesa as the mortuary.
By 1:00 p.m., Smart Cremation case manager Troy Gupton, from their Tennessee corporate office, confirmed that earlier in the morning their San Diego office had already filed the correct cremation permit with the state.
According to Gupton, the problem originated when Mrs. Majeski died at 1:30 a.m. The attending Scripps physician would not sign the death certificate, as Mrs. Majeski, although remaining in the hospital, had been placed into hospice care. A hospice physician signed it instead, but she was not registered with the State of California as an “attending physician,” authorized to formally pronounce and list the cause of death; hence, the reason Scripps Hospital never received the mortuary’s forms.
“We have people here that all they do is try to track down the correct signatures from hospitals and doctors,” said Gupton. He also indicated that signators also change shifts or departments or go on vacation, which makes it more difficult.
“We expect to receive the state’s permit to cremate back today [February 23],” said Gupton.
Contacted again, Ed Majeski said Smart Cremation had also contacted the family earlier in the day. He said he felt as if it was now completed and expected to receive his mom’s ashes within a few days.
Majeski said he had no animosity toward Scripps or the doctors. “They all were very helpful, very consoling, and very professional.”
For those who meet their maker as of March 1st, the state will offer to all counties an electronic death registry, which can be filed and accessed by coroners, mortuaries, doctors, and hospitals. Scripps’ Darcé said the San Diego–based health organization would be part of California’s new web-based registry.
Disclosure: Both the writer and the family involved grew up together, decades ago, in the same neighborhood.