A New Jersey woman died last week after the utility company cut off the power to her home, rendering useless the oxygen tank she needed to breathe.
Linda Daniels, 68, was in hospice care. Her family told local media they used a smaller oxygen reserve while her power was shut off, and called emergency services when the reserve ran out. Paramedics brought a portable unit to the house while Daniels’ family called the utility company and pleaded with them to turn the power back on. Eventually, Daniels’ heart failed.
“We put one ice pack by her side and one on the other side,” Daniels’ daughter Desiree told 6ABC. “We were fanning her. It was so hot in here, she couldn’t breathe. It was unbearable.”
The temperature where the Daniels lived in Newark, New Jersey reached into the 90s that day, according to local weather reports.
The power was apparently shut off because Linda had fallen behind on payments. As of May 29th, she reportedly had a balance of about $1,800. But according to 6ABC and NJ.com, there is evidence she was working to pay off her balance. Other bills indicate she sent in $300 in April, $450 in another month, and $500 on July 3rd, just two days before Linda died.
“She had just paid $500 two days before,” Desiree told NJ.com. “And she’s a senior. We asked them, ‘Why are you turning off her electric at the pole?'”
But Desiree said the utility company, PSEG, told her to stop calling them because there were too many tickets in the system. She said the utility company said they were on their way to the home but no one ever came. Desiree also said that Linda’s medical equipment was registered with the company, though PSEG told WABC they had not been notified of the device and were unaware of Daniels’ medical needs.
Linda’s death, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was a human rights violation.
In a report last year, the association called for “the establishment of a universal right to uninterrupted energy service” and reported a number of stories similar to Daniels’. In Maryland, according to the report, a man had to use an electric generator to power his home after losing service. He was killed — along with his seven children — after carbon monoxide from the generator poisoned the family in their sleep.
Another woman in New York lost three children after a candle she used to light her home after losing power started a fire, and a man in Michigan died of hypothermia after his power was shut off.
“Dangerous and unnecessary shut offs in the sweltering heat and frigid cold disproportionately impact low-income [families], the elderly and communities of color,” NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks said when the association’s report was released last year.
And to make matters worse, these deadly conditions will only worsen in years to come, experts caution.
“Extreme heat and cold with climate change will only make inequality and injustice worse,” Cecil Corbin-Mark of WE ACT for Environmental Justice said following the NAACP report. “In New York State, we have some of the highest electricity costs in the nation, and we need more low-income customers and communities of color represented on the Public Service Commission and involved in energy policy decision-making and regulation.”
In order to prevent deaths like Daniels’, the NAACP has called for utility companies not to shut off power when it may affect residents’ health, such as when the weather is extremely hot or cold, as well protections for elderly and disable customers who need electricity to run medical devices. The association has also called for programs to assist with energy efficiency upgrades and programs to help people who have fallen behind on their bills catch up.
Power to Daniels’ home was restored the day after she died. According to news reports, Newark police are investigating the incident.