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June 27, 2010

New Hampshire officials are investigating the death of a Salem, NH woman on an oxygen machine after the utility company shut off power to her home.

According to The Boston Globe, Stephen Phaneuf came home Monday morning about 10:00 am to find his wife Kay, 54, unconscious and the power to their home turned off. Kay suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and relied on an oxygen machine to breathe. Stephen called 911 and firefighters responded. They could not find a pulse and performed CPR, finally resuscitating and transporting her to Caritas Holy Family Hospital.

The National Grid utility service had visited the Phaneuf home at 9:00 am to shut the power off for nonpayment. The utility worker reportedly knocked on the door and rang the doorbell, located inches from a sign that says “No smoking, oxygen in use,” to serve the cut off order but no one answered. He then cut the power.

Two days later, Kay Phaneuf died in the hospital.

“It’s fairly obvious that she needed to be hooked up to a machine to live, and the oxygen device that she required to live was no longer operable because there was no electricity,’’ Salem Police Captain Shawn Patten told The Boston Globe.

Phaneuf ‘s death prompted Governor John Lynch to send a letter to Thomas Getz, Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission who regulates utility companies, calling for a broad review by the Public Utilities Commission.

“In addition to your immediate review of the circumstances surrounding National Grid’s handling of this case, I am calling on the Public Utilities Commission to conduct a broad review of the policies and procedures of all New Hampshire utility companies in regard to power shut offs,” Governor John Lynch said in a letter to Getz. “This review should include an assessment of the adequacy of policies and safeguards related to power shut-offs, and a determination of whether those policies are being rigorously adhered to by New Hampshire’s utility companies.”

Governor Lynch asked that Getz submit the analysis, including any policy change recommendations, no later than July 20, 2010.

David Graves, a spokesperson for National Grid, said the company followed all state regulations and company policy in the notification and service cancelation.

National Grid was aware of the medical power need at the home, but the medical emergency certification on the account expired on May 15 and the company says it sent a letter notifying Phaneuf of the expiration but received no response. New Hampshire requires that utility customers with a medical condition dependent upon electricity send a letter to the power company every 60 days, which would prevent power shut off due to nonpayment.

Neighbors said Phaneuf had been on oxygen for a long time.

According to the Boston Herald, Kay Phaneuf was the mother of two grown daughters and had just become a grandmother. She was a breast cancer survivor.

“Everybody’s in shock,” Kay’s father-in-law Norman Phaneuf told the Boston Herald. “It’s a sad situation. She was a loving mother. She just became a grandmother.”

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