Mother dies because they didn’t pay their power bill

A really unfortunate series of events occurred in Auckland the other night. Mercury Power disconnected the power at a house which then resulted in the death of an occupant – because she relied on an oxygen machine.

Read some articles about this:
Power company to be picketed over death
NZ Herald:
Power cut death: Contractors talking to lawyers
Power cut death: Mother said – Just give us a chance
Power cut death: Children ask where much-loved teacher is
Power cut death: Oxygen supply death surprises doctors
Power cut death: Mallard cautions against jumping to conclusions
Power Cut Death: What the company said

(I’m a bit disgusted with the Herald – look at those headings for biased journalism)

While what happened was an unfortunate thing, and I am sorry for their loss. Yet, I think a few issues need to be thought about:

1. “hours later she was dead”. If someone in your family relies on oxygen to survive and the power gets disconnected – shouldn’t you call an ambulance straight away?
2. I’ve been a student, and had power disconnected twice. There are reminder notices sent, phone calls. It’s not a sudden process, and people need to be responsible for paying their bills and contacting their utility companies if they have difficulty paying.
3. If someone in your family relies on an oxygen machine to survive shouldn’t your electricity bill be your number 1 priority?
4. if you require an oxygen machine to live, why aren’t you in hospital? the Chief Medical Officer of the district health board admits that she should not have been reliant on the machine, or she would have not been released from hospital. If she was that ill her family should have done the responsible thing and called the ambulance.
5. When the disconnection guy comes to your door, if you said to his face “A family member needs power to survive, if you have disconnected our power then you will kill them”, then I’m sure he’d do more than just “walk off”. If he does, then you call an ambulance.

It’s all very unfortunate, but I don’t think the power company should be held accountable. They were only following the same process that everyone gets subjected to when they don’t pay their power bill.

If someone in your family relies on a machine to survive then you need to think about whether you can provide the appropriate care and environment for them. Sanitary conditions, power, water etc need to be your priority. She should have been in a hospital – the investigators need to stop pointing finger at the power company (who were just doing their job) and look at the hospital and ask “why was this person discharged?”

I have had a read of a selection of readers views, and I find myself relieved that I’m not alone in my thinking. This family had ample time to notify the company they were struggling with the bill, they had ample time to call and ambulance. The apparatus the mother was connected to was not a life-support system, and should not have been relied upon as such. What if this wasn’t the power being disconnected but was a power outage due to a storm?

Too often people look to blame others, when they need to take responsibility for their actions. It’s a harsh thing to say in a situation like this, but if you’re going to act irresponsibly then you have to live and suffer the consequences.

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