‘COVID-19’ removed from Grand Strand woman’s death certificate after months-long fight

Grand Strand family is seeking corrections to death certificate after COVID-19 mislabeling.
Grand Strand family is seeking corrections to death certificate after COVID-19 mislabeling.(Madison Martin)
Updated: Oct. 13, 2020 at 6:39 PM EDT
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GEORGETOWN COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) – After a months-long battle, the death certificate of a Grand Strand family’s loved one is now COVID-19 free.

WMBF Investigates introduced you to Brenda Presley back in September. Her mother, Mary Miller, died on July 18 and the death certificate blamed COVID-19 for her passing. It was listed as acute respiratory failure, and underneath it read COVID-19.

Presley stated that her mother didn’t die from the coronavirus. Lab results showed that Miller was tested for the virus three times, and each time came back negative. The last test was taken on July 13, which was five days before she died.


Tidelands Health admitted that the doctor made a mistake in listing COVID-19 as the cause of death and stated that the certificate would be amended.

But the death certificate saga didn’t end there.

A couple of weeks later, Presley checked the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Web Death system, which tracks death certificates in South Carolina, and it showed in Part I that her mother died solely from “Acute Respiratory Failure,” and that in Part II, “COVID-19 exposure,” dementia and CVA were significant conditions contributing to her death.

WMBF Investigates spoke with an official with the CDC who stated that “COVID-19 exposure” is not a cause of death or a contributory factor.

After Miller’s death certificate was amended to include “COVID-19 exposure," Chase Ridgeway, the family’s funeral home director, contacted DHEC’s Vital Statistics department to explain the situation.

He said DHEC then reached out to the doctor, who amended it for the second time. Presley told WMBF Investigates that COVID-19 is no longer listed on her mother’s death certificate - instead, simply other complications, such as vascular dementia.

After her mother died in mid-July, Presley was able to pick up her mother’s third death certificate in mid-October, and finally, be relieved with what she saw.

“I am thankful. I’m thankful to have it done, even though I have three death certificates for my mom," Presley said. "Never thought that would happen, so quite unusual; but I am glad it’s done, and I do feel, I do feel a closure.”

Ridgeway said through this time that Miller’s family has worked to fix her death certificate, it has brought on the sentiment that if something seems off about a loved one’s death certificate, you should say something.

“It has caused me to really take a look at these death certificates when they’re coming across our desks,” Ridgeway said, “And making sure that these causes of death that are being put on these death certificates are legitimate causes of death to this person’s illnesses or whatever’s happened to them.”

DHEC told WMBF Investigates that the department does not approve or reject what is listed on a death certificate.

However, after a certificate is filed, and an issue is brought to their attention, they may elect to contact the medical certifier to let them know. It’s then the certifiers' job to make that update.

“Of the tens of thousands of certificates filed each year with Vital Statistics, the department typically reaches out to a medical certifier less than one percent of the time,” DHEC’s spokesperson told WMBF Investigates in an email. “Usually this is to receive an update for a cause of death that was initially listed as “pending” by the medical certifier because it was still under investigation at the time the certificate was filled out.”

DHEC was not able to comment on if Miller’s death was included in South Carolina’s COVID-19 case count.

“The information contained within a death certificate is protected by confidentiality laws,” the department said.

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