COVID-19 death linked to Juneau may not be Alaskan after all

Marcella Livemond, and her niece Colleen Torrence in 2015 at Livemond’s home. Livemond contracted COVID-19 and died in May 2020 and Torrence’s Juneau address was mistakenly written on her death certificate. (Photo courtesy Colleen Torrence)

Marcella Livemond, a 69-year-old woman from Freehold, New Jersey died in May. She was living in a long-term nursing facility where she had contracted COVID-19. 

She was not a Juneau resident. 

“She’s never lived here, ever. She visited here one time,” said Juneau resident Colleen Torrence.

Torrence is Livemond’s niece.  She’s also her power of attorney.

“So her mailing address was in Juneau and when she passed the funeral director who… It’s complicated but it’s a New York funeral director working with a New Jersey funeral director — something got lost in translation between residence and mailing addresses,” Torrence said.

When Torrence got her aunt’s death certificate a few weeks ago, it had her Juneau address on it and not her aunt’s New Jersey address. Torrence said she has been working to correct the error ever since, and she says it feels like a task as big as an Act of Congress. 

“…It’s taking four weeks, easily. Like, the form is just now going to be submitted by the funeral directors as a data entry error,” she said.

But, Torrence suspects that data entry error has had widespread implications. 

Torrence thinks Livemond’s death was reported as an Alaska resident dying out of state.  In late June, state health officials reported that two Juneau residents had died out of state. One of them was in New Jersey.

The State’s Department of Health and Social Services won’t directly confirm that Torrence’s case is linked to the Juneau death that it reported. So, Torrence says there is a possibility — however slight — that the data error she’s dealing with is not the same case that the state reported.  

“Granted, I could be putting two and two together and getting five but it seems really odd and very rare that a Juneau resident would have died in early May in a long term facility that, you know, would have been linked, you know, to any Juneau resident. So I found it likely that it’s probably my aunt,” Torrence said.

Alaska hasn’t reported as many COVID-19 related deaths as other states. It currently stands at 17. More than 15,000 people from New Jersey have died. 

But, Torrence says the error is important to correct because so many people are following the COVID-19 numbers closely. This state is like one big small town and people want to know who from their community has died. 

“I knew it being a small town, like I say in Juneau … when it flies out there, people are definitely wanting to know,” she said.

There are also other consequences. 

Torrence says she’s the executor of her aunt’s estate. And, when she saw the error on the death certificate,  she suspected it might be problematic because the court in New Jersey might not recognize her aunt as a resident anymore. 

“That would have produced a really big issue and in fact it has, so my prediction was accurate,” she said.

So, she contacted the State of Alaska and New Jersey and she’s waiting on both of them to get the error fixed. 

For now, Torrence says she’s done everything she can.