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Death stats point to natural causes and aging population

Natural causes were the leading manner of investigated deaths last year in Goodhue County, according to an annual report by the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office.

The majority of deaths investigated last year in Goodhue County were of natural causes and to people 65 years and older, according to an annual report by the regional medical examiner’s office.

“What we like to see is this high bar of natural deaths; that’s a good thing,” said Dr. R. Ross Reichard, southern Minnesota regional medical examiner, at a presentation last week to Goodhue County commissioners.

Of the 353 cases reported to the medical examiner, investigations determined 298 were natural deaths and 285 were in the 65 and older age group.

“What we don’t see here, which is really good, is a huge peak in the 18 to 25 year old range,” Reichard said.

The goal of the annual report is to identify death trends and assist public health officials and county boards in making policy decisions.

State law mandates which deaths are reported to the medical examiner’s office, such as unexpected or violent deaths and those that occur in certain health care settings — but the threshold is fairly low, Reichard explained.

“We’d rather have someone call us to make us aware and then decline that jurisdiction, than be surprised by something a few weeks later,” Reichard said, noting 268 of the cases investigated last year were not certified by his office and returned to a primary care physician to sign the death certificate.

The two main parts of a death certificate are the cause of death and manner of death, the latter of which describes the circumstances in which a death occurs.

There are five manners of death: natural, accident, suicide, homicide and undetermined.

A change in the way statistics are presented created a spike in reported cancer deaths last year, but cardiac and neurologic deaths continue to be among the top natural causes, in line with national trends, Reichard said.

Falling was the leading cause of unnatural death with 29 cases investigated last year, followed by vehicle deaths with 14.

There was one homicide reported in Goodhue County in 2014, but the deceased was injured elsewhere and died while receiving treatment at a medical facility in the county, Reichard said.

The Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office conducts autopsies and death investigations for Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Olmsted and Winona counties, and just autopsies for Mower, Steele and Wabasha counties. It is based out of Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

Its staff includes five field investigators assigned to Goodhue County.

“Those are the folks who are on 24/7, 365 responding to deaths and getting information,” Reichard said.

“I can’t overemphasize how important they are and what they do to make the system work.”

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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