‘A death that wasn’t theirs’: Local woman says Juneau COVID-19 death incorrectly counted

Deceased was listed as Juneau resident, her niece says she never lived here.

Courtesy photo | Colleen Torrence
                                Marcella Livemond (left) and her niece, Colleen Torrence, pose in an undated photo.

Courtesy photo | Colleen Torrence Marcella Livemond (left) and her niece, Colleen Torrence, pose in an undated photo.

A Juneau woman is trying to amend her aunt’s death certificate, which she says led to her aunt inaccurately being counted as one of the capital city’s first COVID-19 deaths.

Colleen Torrence reached out to news outlets, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and City and Borough of Juneau after seeing stories reporting the death of a Juneau resident in New Jersey due to the coronavirus. That death, Torrence said, was likely her aunt, Marcella Livemond, who recently passed away at a long-term care facility in Freehold, New Jersey. Because Torrence had power of attorney for Livemond, Torrence had been receiving mail and conducting business for her aunt from her home in Juneau, which is why she believes the death was recorded for Alaska.

“Due to erroneous residence information that was placed on her death certificate by the New York and New Jersey funeral directors entering the data, the information gathered through these official means is not accurate,” Torrence said in an email to the Empire.

Due to privacy laws, state officials couldn’t confirm the identity of the deceased for either Torrence or the Empire, but Torrence said they intimated to her in the call she was likely correct and provided direction on how to resolve the issue.

In an email to the Empire, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Clinton Bennett said officials had spoken with Torrence and confirmed she will need to request a change to the death certificate from the state of New Jersey.

“If there are any changes to the death certificate we would expect the state of New Jersey to contact Alaska if/when these changes occur,” Bennett said.

Reporting guidelines for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention count COVID-19 deaths by the deceased’s state of residence, not where the death occurred. For example, Alaska’s first reported COVID-19 death was an Alaska resident living in Washington state, but Torrence said, her aunt never lived in Alaska.

[State reports 2 new coronavirus deaths]

Livemond was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York where she lived until just a few years ago when she moved to New Jersey, according to Torrence. Health conditions caused Livemond to move into a long-term care facility in Freehold, New Jersey where she died in May at age 69.

A person in their 60s was one of the deaths reported Friday, according to a news release from City and Borough of Juneau that cited the state. Both of the COVID-19 deaths reported for Juneau occurred in May, Bennett previously said.

Torrence said there must have been confusion when the death certificate was being filled out. Torrence has power of attorney for her aunt, but is not her next-of-kin, and the difference between mailing address and residence got confused.

“It was an inadvertent error,” Torrence said. “I wasn’t familiar with the (death certificate) form. Something got miscommunicated.”

When data is reported to Alaska by the CDC, patient names are not usually known until later according to Clint Farr, chief of Health Analytics and Vital Records at DHSS. Farr was the state official who directed Torrence toward changing the death certificate. While he couldn’t confirm any names or personal information “you can certainly draw the points together,” he said.

“CDC reporting requirements lists places of residences,” Farr said. “If a resident were to die out of Alaska, that death eventually comes to us. We eventually get the record from the (state where the death occurred), but it’s not an immediate thing. No response to a pandemic is perfect, it’s a work in progress.”

In addition to wanting to fix the potential error, Torrence said she wanted Juneau residents to know about the situation.

“It seemed pretty important to try and set the record state, for my aunt, but I also didn’t want Alaska owning a death that wasn’t theirs,” she said.

Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

More in News

In this June 2019 photo, people gather outside U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office in Juneau, Alaska, to protest the proposed Pebble Mine. The Pebble Limited Partnership, which wants to build a copper and gold mine near the headwaters of a major U.S. salmon fishery in southwest Alaska, says it plans to offer residents in the region a dividend. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)
Mine developer sees review as positive for Alaska project

Pebble is on track to win key approvals. Critics say it has been rushed and is inadequate.

AP FILE PHOTO BY James Poulson/Daily Sitka Sentinel 
                                The bronze statue of 19th century Russian America Governor Alexander Baranov sports a hard hat and a reflective vest, after being moved from its original site in front of Centennial Hall in Sitka in February 2013. Far away from Confederate memorials, Alaska residents have joined the movement to eliminate statues of colonialists accused of abusing and exploiting Indigenous people. The effort has already resulted in the statue of Baranov being taken out of public view in the city.
Homer Farmers Market: Booths are brimming

I didn’t even get to the Homer Farmers Market until 2 p.m.… Continue reading

Gary Stevens looks to keep his Alaska Senate seat

Incumbent Gary Stevens is making a bid to keep his seat in… Continue reading

Soldotna’s Greg Madden makes bid for Alaska Senate

Relative political newcomer Greg Madden of Soldotna is hoping to serve his… Continue reading

John Cox makes a run at Senate District P seat

In a bid for what would be his freshman term in state… Continue reading

The Compass men’s residential addiction treatment facility, located about 15 miles east of Homer, Alaska, had an open house on Saturday, July 25, 2020. The facility is slated to accept its first clients in about a week. (Photo courtesy Lindsey Cashman)
Residential addiction treatment facility for men opens outside Homer

Men from the Homer area and beyond seeking recovery from addiction can… Continue reading

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Additional hospital staff test positive for COVID-19 as state count continues to rise

Alaska recorded 91 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with 67 new… Continue reading

Most Read