SALEM, N.H. -- The governor of New Hampshire called today for a speedy review of power company shutoff policies statewide, saying he was troubled by the death, after her electricity was disconnected, of a Salem woman who used an oxygen machine.
"I am terribly saddened and troubled by the tragic situation of Kay Phaneuf, a woman from Salem who depended on an oxygen machine and whose death may be connected to a decision by National Grid to terminate her power for non-payment," Governor John Lynch said in a letter to the state Public Utilities Commission.
Phaneuf, 53, died Thursday at Holy Family Hospital in nearby Methuen, Mass., local officials said.
Salem Police Captain Shawn Patten said this morning that Phaneuf's husband called 911 Monday morning and police and firefighters arrived at about 10 a.m. Kay Phaneuf did not have a pulse and rescuers immediately performed CPR. After several attempts, she was resuscitated and rushed to 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," he said.
The Public Utilities Commission is investigating what happened to Phaneuf. The commission sent a letter to National Grid Thursday seeking a number of records, including records of the Phaneufs' billing and payment history, copies of past due and disconnect notices, and a chronology and detailed description of what happened on Monday.
Lynch called on the commission to widen its scope to include all New Hamphire utility companies to see if their polices and safeguards were adequate and to see if they were being followed. He asked that the analysis, along with recommended policy changes, be completed by Wednesday.
National Grid spokesman David Graves wouldn't comment on the status of the Phaneufs' account but defended the company's policies on shutting down power to people's homes.
He said the company sends out notices on bills that are a month late telling customers they need to submit overdue payments. After another month, they send a notice telling customers that they must pay or face shutoff of their power. After another two weeks, they send a notice saying that shutoff is imminent unless payment is made by a certain date.
Graves said the state of New Hampshire also requires that a customer, if they have a medical condition that requires electricity in the house, send a letter to the power company every 60 days. That letter ensures that the power won't be shut off in case of non-payment. Graves said National Grid's own policy is the letter only needs to be sent every 90 days. He wouldn't comment on whether a letter had been sent in Phaneuf's case.
Tracy Frenette of Manchester, N.H., who was visiting her mother's house in the neighborhood, said Phaneuf had been on oxygen for a long time.
"She was just a great lady, funny as hell," she said.
"This is the kind of neighborhood where they all go to someone's house to play cards on a Saturday," she said. "They're (the neighbors) all very tight-knit, very protective, and they're all horrified."
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