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.
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