Monday, July 16, 2018

Sickly Newark Grandmother Dies When Power Company Shuts Off Electricity

In the movie Goodfellas mobster Henry Hill, as played by Ray Liotta, explains in voiceover that the animating ethos of the Mafia, as exemplified by local Mob boss Paul Vario (Paul Sorvino) is "F*** you, pay me!!. The Mob exists to extract profit from its clients victims. There is no other reason. Utility companies on the other hand are not just only supposed to make money from customers. These companies actually do have a charge to help people and provide a public service. Profit should not be the only or highest purpose. When the Mafia deliberately kills someone or is indifferent to a person's death as a cost of business no one is surprised. That organization is working as designed. It is after all a criminal enterprise.You don't blame the shark for biting you. You blame yourself for swimming with the sharks. When a utility company does the same, though, it is not acting in concert with its charter. 

NEWARK — Linda Daniels had fallen behind on her electricity bills, her meter run up by medical equipment going around the clock and increasingly hot weather. But on July 3, her family said, they pulled together $500 to pay down her debts, believing it would maintain her service. Two days later, her electricity was shut off. It was a sweltering day and temperatures in Newark soared into the 90s. Ms. Daniels’s house was stifling, the air so stuffy that her daughter said it was difficult to breathe. Even more serious: Ms. Daniels relied on an oxygen machine, and it required electricity. 

Ms. Daniels, 68, had various ailments, including congestive heart failure, her relatives said, and in recent months she had been placed in hospice care as her health declined. Her doctors had not given her any indication of how long she had to live, relatives said, but her family wanted her to be comfortable and to be at home. 

Over several hours that day, her family said, Ms. Daniels gasped for air. Her relatives said they repeatedly called the power company, Public Service Electric and Gas, pleading for the electricity to be restored, only to be asked at one point to stop calling. 

Paramedics brought portable oxygen tanks but, by later that afternoon, Ms. Daniels was dead from heart failure. Toward the end, her relatives said, she was frightened, clutching her children’s hands. “It’s just very horrifying to my entire family,” her daughter, Desiree Washington, said. “I’m at my breaking point.” As the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has started an investigation, Ms. Daniels’s family and the utility company have offered conflicting versions of the events leading to her death. 

The company has argued that Ms. Daniels’s customer account was severely delinquent and that the company had no evidence of her medical condition or need for an oxygen machine. Her family disputes those statements. 

Ms. Daniels’s family provided The New York Times with screen shots from a cellphone that appear to show bank records with a series of payments made to the company, including the one for $500 on July 3, as well as $300 in April, $250 in May and $400 in June.

The family also disputed the claim that the company was unaware of Ms. Daniels’s medical situation; they said that, several years ago, the company was informed that she needed a breathing machine to treat her sleep apnea. Ms. Washington said that an employee from the company had visited the house in June to discuss her outstanding balance and was told of Ms. Daniels’s medical needs. 
In New Jersey, according to the state Board of Public Utilities rules, residential service cannot be shut off on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays; holidays or the day before; or if there is a medical emergency in the household.

The tragic tale of Linda Daniels' death serves as another reminder of how the lives of poor and/or Black people can be undervalued. No one really cares. This is the true cost of poverty; for some people a $1500 past due bill might as well be a $1.5 million past due bill. In either case they don't have the money and won't have it any time soon. I don't think that anyone should be able to use services and not pay. But (1) utilities have to be able to distinguish between emergency situations and grifters and (2) utilities must follow their own internal procedures as well as the law. It doesn't sound as if that happened here. It is unthinkable to me to watch a loved one die in terror holding my hand because some bureaucrat somewhere didn't care enough to do his or her due diligence.

That's the sort or thing that to paraphrase Mencken might make even the best of men snap, hoist the black flag and start slitting throats. Everyone will be on their best CYA behavior until this blows over. But it shouldn't blow over. Someone losing their job should be the least of consequences. But in reality that's all that might happen. And that's horrible. Like Stevie Wonder sang, "This place is cruel. Nowhere could be much colder."

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