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Deaths hit five-year high for Utah social service clients

Published December 18, 2012 8:51 pm

Fatality review • Annual Utah report looks at causes of death to identify problems.
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Six children died from abuse in fiscal year 2012 while being served by social-service programs, according to a new state report. The youngest, a boy, had only been alive for an hour when drug exposure killed him.

Their deaths helped drive fatalities among social-service clients to a five-year high, although the total number of child deaths was down from 2011, according to the report by the Department of Human Services. The spike was driven largely by an increase in reported fatalities among elderly and disabled social-service clients, most of whom died from natural causes.

Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Sollis said state social-service agencies are required to report deaths of anyone whose case is open or who died within 12 months of receiving service. Agencies such as the Division of Child and Family Services and the Division of Services for People with Disabilities not only provide services to individuals but investigate reports of abuse or neglect, among other things.

The report documents a total of 177 deaths across Utah between July 1, 2011 and July 30, 2012, up from 164 deaths in fiscal year 2011. A majority of the deaths — 144 — were from natural causes, according to the Utah Medical Examiner.

In 2012, DCFS documented 42 child deaths, a decline of roughly 20 percent from the 53 deaths reported in 2011. Cheryl Dalley, fatality review coordinator for DHS, said social-service agencies were not culpable for any of the deaths.

In addition to six children who died from abuse, two died in car accidents and another asphyxiated. Three children were homicide victims, all of whom suffered blunt force injuries. Dalley said the day-old boy died because his mother was on drugs. She declined to provide additional information about the case.

Suicides among clients fell to a five year low in 2012, with only four reported. All the victims were teenagers, one of whom overdosed on drugs while another died from a gunshot wound. Two teenagers hanged themselves, the report states.

Fourteen of the deaths were accidental, including four from drug toxicity, one drowning and one electrocution. One resident of the Utah State Hospital succumbed to hypothermia.

The report does not include details about any of the cases, beyond cause of death, and Sollis said state law prevented her from providing any specifics.

The largest increase in reported deaths was among elderly adults. In 2012, the division reported 54 deaths, up from only 36 in 2011. The jump extends a trend that began in 2010, when social-service agencies reported 34 deaths among elderly clients, up from two the previous year.

Nan Mendenhall, director of Adult Protective Services, said the increase is mostly due to better reporting and awareness of elderly abuse. One example, she said, is the Salt Lake Elder Abuse Project, a law enforcement task force formed in 2011 in Salt Lake County to help identify and remedy cases of elderly abuse or neglect. Similar groups have formed in other parts of the state, which Mendenhall said has dramatically increased the number of elderly abuse cases coming to authorities' attention.

"We're getting more involved," Mendenhall said. "We're getting more referrals. We're getting more informed."

Dalley also noted that the biggest increases were among comparatively fragile populations, including the elderly.

She added that she did not see any particular trend in the higher number of reported fatalities, saying some years more people die than in other years.

"It could be a matter of better reporting on the agencies part," she said.

jdalrymple@sltrib.com —

Annual fatality review

Every fiscal year, the Department of Health and Human Services compiles a report on client deaths. Here's a breakdown of the causes of the 177 deaths in fiscal year 2012.

14 • Accidents

5 • Homicide

144 • Natural causes

4 • Suicide

10 • Undetermined

Source • Utah Medical Examiner




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