DHEC Highlights Vital Statistics Team for World Population Day

Sunday, July 11, was World Population Day, and we wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate DHEC’s own Vital Statistics team. 

The Vital Statistics team has over 130 employees and is headed by Vital Statistics Director Caleb Cox. The team consists of three divisions — Biostatistics, Registration, and Certification.  

Vital Statistics’ customer base includes midwives, birth clerks, hospital administrators, funeral homes, coroners, physicians, judges, and probate/clerk of court personnel, in addition to the general public.  

Vital Statistics has 16 offices throughout the state, including the state office. Staff act as customer service representatives, subject matter experts, trainers, correction specialists, data quality stewards, and end user technical support for thousands of data source providers.  

Services provided include issuance of certified copies of birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates, processing of delayed birth and presumptive death certificates, processing of disinterment requests, registration of unidentified bodies,  completion of adoptions, surrogacy, name change and other court ordered amendments, registration of midwife assisted and unattended home births, and review of all Paternity Acknowledgments completed in South Carolina.    

In addition, the Biostatistics and Registration teams work directly with the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a branch of CDC, to provide frequent verifications and validations to maintain the highest standards of data quality submission for birth, death, and fetal death data. Relevant data is supplied to 16 federal and state agencies and 11 internal DHEC programs. 

Responding to COVID-19   

Vital Statistics data can be used to report trends of significant health risks, such as increases in births that occurred at home without licensed midwife or medical personnel present. This trend was noticed during the COVID-19 pandemic as mothers were apprehensive about entering hospitals.  

Another trend that was identified includes a significant rise in “natural burials.” In these cases, the family acts as the funeral agent to file the death certificate, and the decedent’s body is transferred directly from the place of death to one of three natural preserves in South Carolina or to private property for burial. The body is not embalmed or treated with chemicals and is buried in either an environmentally friendly casket or simply shrouded and laid in the ground. 

As a program and throughout the pandemic, the Vital Statistics team reported on-site every day to serve customers as most staff were considered essential. The team innovated by finding ways to transition to virtual and phone training for all document source providers and system end users in Registration to appointments and curbside services offered by Vital Records staff. When services were temporarily suspended to walk-in customers, Vital Records moved all available personnel to fill requests received by mail and online to prevent any delays in service.   

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Interesting Facts 

  • The most requested document is a birth certification. The average number of birth certifications requested each month is more than 16,000 with as many as 20,000 a month being requested during back-to-school (July-August) and tax seasons (January-April). In contrast, the average number of death certifications requested each month is almost 6,500. 
  • Original paper birth/death certificates dating back to 1915 are still maintained in a specially constructed halon vault located at the 2600 Bull Street, Columbia DHEC office. Some incomplete birth ledgers dating back to the 1870s are maintained in the Regional Vital Records offices and are currently in the process of being transferred to the Department of Archives and History to be made available for public viewing.  
  • 100% of the hospital births are filed electronically and approximately 96% of the deaths are filed electronically in South Carolina.  Because of our system and diligent efforts by staff, South Carolina is among the top 10 states for timeliness of filing birth and death certificates. 
  • All individuals who die in South Carolina have a Burial Removal Transit Permit (BRTP) issued which follows their body. It identifies their name, date and time of death, place of death, certifier, and funeral home or other agent who first assumes custody of their body. This permit program is managed by the Division of Registration. 
  • The Division of Biostatistics publishes numerous statistics on birth and death data each year on our website. There is also a website set up where anyone from the public can pull statistical data and select their own parameters. Available at:  https://apps.dhec.sc.gov/Health/SCAN_BDP/

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