Jason Versus the Pennsylvania Division of Vital Records Part 1
by Jason Kimble
When Hannah passed away, Heather and I were absolutely devastated. Having been given a fatal diagnosis, we knew the tragic day would come when we would face the this heartbreaking and difficult time. Knowing this did not make the time any easier, but it did allow us to consider some things about what was happening. That said, one thing that came up was the idea of a birth certificate. Initially this did not cross my mind. At this point, I can’t recall where I heard about it first. I think Heather told me she had seen something about it online. There was a birth certificate that our state would produce for families called the “Birth Resulting in a Stillbirth” certificate. It sounded like something that would be a great thing to have and would add just a little bit of peace in the recognition of our baby girl… or so we thought…
This was a way for families to have their baby recognized by the state as more than just a “medical issue.” It was a way for the family to mark this moment and remember the baby that was lost. It was something that a family can have as something to hold to and show that while their baby couldn’t come home with them, the life of their baby was no less important than anyone else. I didn’t NEED this certificate to allow me to know my daughter existed or mattered, because she did, but in my mind it was nice to have that simple piece of paper just like a “normal” family would.
Now let me tell you a little bit about the tale that goes along with this fabled certificate. I say this with a little bit of jest, but this certificate truly seems to be harder to find than a unicorn. Pennsylvania has had this particular certificate available to families ever since a law was passed in July 2011 that brought it into existence. That being said, one would think that obtaining this certificate should be a simple task. At this point they have had nearly 4 years to perfect the system, so I was certain this would be an easy task.
I went online and found the form I needed to fill out. I mailed the form, a copy of my license, and a self addressed stamped envelope to the address provided so that we could receive our certificate. I believe this was in January 2014. This was of course after we had already thought that one was to be procured for us by the hospital as we have filled out some form there, but were later informed we had to file a separate form. I had thought this would be the only confusion in the process. The state website advised me of exactly how to fill out the form. It told me that there was a $9 charge that would be waived since it was our first copy. The form was on its way and in 3-6 weeks we would have our certificate. Or so we were told. The first filing came back explaining that the form was rejected due to the fact that we would have to pay the $9 to get the certificate. I called and explained the situation and found out that they had made an “error” and that I should resend it. I sent it a second time and waited. Now at this point I was under the impression we were getting the certificate, so I took my foot off the gas. Some months later, Heather asked me where the certificate was. It was then I realized that we were well passed the window of time. I called and was informed that they had never received the application. This time I sent another one with attention on the envelope to the specific person whose job it was to send mail them out. I was sure things would be fine.
Fast forward a little and still no certificate. I begin calling again. I get told, “That must be in the pile from a few months ago that was overlooked.” Overlooked? Are we serious here? This is already a terrible and tragic experience and yet this government organization, that my tax money pays for feels the need to “overlook” it? I was now getting angry. We were now only weeks from Hannah’s 1st birthday and still no certificate. So I faxed the form to them, twice. I was told it would come. I called again, now days before the birthday since we had still not received it, only to be asked to fax it again and was told, “We don’t have any more of the signed papers from the director so it will get sent out in a few weeks when we get more.” When the woman said this to me, I looked around to see if Ashton Kutcher might run out to tell me I had been punk’d. No, this woman was serious. I have called virtually every business day since that date. All of January and all of February. It is now March and still no certificate. I called again today and was told that the woman who I had been dealing with has been out of the office for a few days and would remain out of the office. I was asked to fax the form yet again.
I have spent countless hours on the phone with the Department of Vital Records. Most of my phone calls to them last a minimum of 10 minutes of hold time alone. I believe they keep you on hold to discourage you from actually talking to someone there. I have emailed my local state representative regarding my discontent. I have received no response.
I think the worst part about this, besides the inefficiency of our state is the fact that we as a family have already been through so much. We have dealt with, what many consider, the worst possible type of loss. Yet we are taxed with this difficult task that seems to be more difficult than capturing bigfoot. Haven’t we been through enough? Can’t we get this simple piece of paper that we not only deserve but were promised? Shouldn’t it be simple, instead of requiring me to challenge the bureaucracy of our states government and demand reform in order to see this come to pass? It would be one thing if we were trying to get something that didn’t exist. This is something we were told we are supposed to get. I’m not asking for favors or special treatment. After speaking with other loss families, I have heard we aren’t the only ones to deal with this problem. One person I know is years removed from her loss and still has not received the certificate she requested.
At this point I’m not sure how to proceed. I will continue to call and will not give up. I’m not sure if I should reach out to other government officials or start a letter writing campaign getting others to write to their local representatives. Should I contact someone like Fox 29 investigates? I don’t know what the best way to proceed is, other than to do what I’m already doing. I shouldn’t have to think about what to do next though. I should just be getting the birth certificate resulting in stillbirth in the mail.