Maine’s antiquated death reporting system is about to get an electronic update.
Maine is one of just a few states that still rely on paper data forms and the post office for reporting deaths to the state Office of Vital Statistics, according to Dr. Dora Anne Mills, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It can take weeks for the information to get to Vital Statistics,” she said Wednesday. That delay could have a profound effect on the ability of public health officials to detect or track an epidemic, such as the widely anticipated global influenza outbreak, she said.
“In a flu pandemic you need daily reporting,” she said. Even with more routine public health concerns, such as the annual flu season or outbreaks of mumps or whooping cough, the ability to track cases quickly is key to limiting cases and preventing future outbreaks, she said.
The paper process can also hold up funeral plans, Mills said, because undertakers must wait for legal notifications to be filed before cremation or burial can occur. Municipalities also receive notification of deaths that occur in their jurisdictions.
Using a combination of state and federal funds, Mills said, Maine will invest in a new electronic system that will allow the near-instantaneous reporting of deaths in hospitals, nursing homes and other settings.
The Maine CDC is one of 29 state and municipal public health systems to share a recently announced $24 million award from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The funds are aimed at improving public health preparedness for the anticipated flu pandemic. Maine’s share includes $943,020 for the electronic death reporting system. Mills said she will seek an additional $1 million a year in state funding for the next two years to complete the new system, but that it should be up and running by this time next year.
The electronic system also will improve Maine’s reporting of birth statistics.
Maine also will receive an additional $508,567 for an electronic system to report state laboratory data to the federal CDC. No state matching funds are required for this project.
Maine’s total allotment of approximately $1.45 million from the CDC grant is the fourth-highest share among all the grantees, behind the public health programs in Minnesota, Michigan and Oregon.
A list of the grant recipients and their projects is available online at emergency.cdc.gov/cotper/coopagreement/07/funding-schedule-pan-flu.asp
More about the anticipated influenza pandemic is available online at www.pandemicflu.gov.