Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

20 Feb 2021

Suicide rates in La Plata County increased during shutdowns

Posted by Adam Howell


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Suicide deaths increased in La Plata County during the shutdowns to 14 in the year 2020 over the 11 that occurred in 2019. At the same time, La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith reported zero deaths due to COVID-19 in 2020.

Two data sets with general cause of death numbers were provided by La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith.

Causes of Death for 2020
Causes of Death in 2019, La Plata County

The stats from 2020 listed above do not include covid-related deaths that occurred at nursing homes or hospitals, said Smith. Furthermore, the deaths from pneumonia in 2020 were not COVID-19 deaths, she said.

Between 2004 and 2019, La Plata County had 165 suicide deaths.

Over that 15-year period, there was an average of 11 (165/15) deaths per year. Specifically, what this means is that the 14 deaths in 2020 was slightly higher than the average of 11.

suicide deaths increased in 2020

Tobin Sinclair Jr., on the left, rest in peace

The reason for this increase in suicides in 2020 is unclear, but 2020 will be remembered for the CCP virus that caused sickness and death. It will also be remembered for the government’s reaction to the virus. In particular, the economic and societal shutdowns, the mandates to wear masks and social distancing guidelines will be remembered.

One of those suicides was my friend and former coworker Tobin Sinclair Jr. He left behind his children, family, friends and the rest of the world at the age of 37 on June 22, 2020.

He will be missed by his friends and family.

Tobin loved loud hip hop and he had a great sense of humor. During my time working with him at a greenhouse in the county, he loved to work with plants.



COVID-19 death data at Mercy Regional Medical Center undisclosed by Centura Health

Lindsay Radford, the Director of External & Field Communications for Centura Health could not or would not answer a few questions of mine about how many COVID-19 deaths and suicide deaths occurred at Mercy Regional Medical Center.

In response to my question about COVID deaths, she said that it was an answer that the county should be able to provide me.

To the contrary, the county was not able to provide me with a response to these questions, according to La Plata County Public Affairs Officer Megan Graham.

“Thanks for reaching out. I’m not sure why Centura would have sent you our way for information about deaths at Mercy Regional Medical Center, because that is something that they track and do not share with the county. So even if we had that information at La Plata County, which we don’t, it would not be ours to release as it is Centura’s/Mercy’s information,” said Graham.

Me: Has the emergency room at Mercy Regional Medical Center ever turned away a patient who came in for treatment after testing positive for COVID-19?

Radford: Mercy encourages all patients who are ill, whether it’s because of COVID-19 or another matter, to seek medical attention.  Mercy will not turn anyone away.

Me: Has the ICU at Mercy Regional Medical Center ever reached maximum capacity due to an excess of COVID-19 patients since January 1, 2020? If yes, for how long was the ICU at maximum capacity?

Radford: Per state guidelines, Mercy has enacted a surge plan that allows us to accommodate additional COVID-19 cases.

Ultimately, COVID-19 death data has been inconsistent in the way it’s been reported on by the CDPHE, the CDC, and San Juan Basin Public Health.



Suicide deaths spike in Los Alamos, New Mexico

Suicide was Kent Pegg's final calling.While La Plata County saw an increase in suicide, so did the similarly-sized county of Los Alamos, New Mexico.

In Los Alamos, suicide deaths tripled in the first half of 2020 over annual numbers in the last decade, according to Los Alamos Police Department. The information was obtained and reported on by Carol Clark of the Los Alamos Daily Post.

Between January and the beginning of June 2020, there were six suicides. In years past, there was an average of two per year.

Most recently, the owner of Los Alamos Fitness Center, Kent Pegg, killed himself. He will be missed by the community.

By contrast, there was a cumulative of 4 COVID-19 deaths in Los Alamos since the beginning of the pandemic at the time of this story being written, according to New Mexico Department of Health.

Over the past 11 months, counties in New Mexico have been under various levels of restrictions.

Currently, Los Alamos is listed as high risk level yellow. This means that gyms, food and drink establishments are only allowed to operate at 25% of maximum capacity.



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