Power was cut, and a woman died. PSEG screwed up, report says
NEWARK — PSE&G repeatedly fell down on the job after cutting power to a woman on oxygen — a situation family members say led to her death this summer — according to a report by an attorney for the company.
Linda Daniels, 68, died in her home on the afternoon of July 5 despite several frantic phone calls from her family trying to get the utility to turn the power to her home back on. Following her death, PSE&G hired attorney Ted Wells to investigate the incident, and said it placed no restrictions on Wells' work.
Wells report, released to the public Monday, found "a number of breakdowns" in its response to Daniels' case, delaying the restoration of power after the company learned of Daniels' medical condition. But the report also said PSE&G didn't act improperly when it initially shut power off.
At the time of Daniels' death, the company said it was not initially aware of Daniels' condition, but had worked to restore her power after it received phone calls from her family. Family members disputed that claim, saying PSE&G representatives had a face-to-face meeting with Daniels a month before.
"They said 'no problem,' they will update the account," Daniels' daughter, Desiree Washington, told New Jersey 101.5 at the time.
While the company said Daniels' power was shut off because she owed money, the family showed media outlets a statement showing a $500 payment had been made days before she died.
Problem after problem
Daniels' power was disconnected at around 9:45 on the morning of July 5 because "the bill was substantially in arrears," an executive summary of the new report says, also noting that PSE&G's records had not shown Daniels was on hospice care at the time, or using oxygen. The report said a call center employee was right to determine that her power should be restored after talking to the family — but that ensuing problems prevented that from happening.
"Although several members of the Daniels family called PSE&G multiple times throughout the day to reiterate the details of the life-threatening emergency, PSE&G employees failed to take steps to compensate effectively for the initial errors and to restore electric service in a timely fashion," the report said.
Daniels died at around 4:24 that afternoon, and power was not restored until the following morning, according to the report.
The report said that 97 percent of customers have their power turned off at the meter. However, because the Daniels family had a pit bull in the yard, making it potentially unsafe for an employee to work in, the power was cut at the pole, the report said. Therefore when an employee was assigned to turn the power back on at the meter they were unable to do so, and the process started again, it said.
The report identified human failings: One employee who initially talked to the family did not see in Daniels' record that the power had been cut at the pole, it said. A "senior representative" who was initially made aware of the situation did not call a dispatcher to start the power restoration process, but rather asked a subordinate to send a reminder email to make the call.
While the subordinate sent the email as asked, the senior representative forgot to call the dispatcher, the report said.
"While some, but not all, of the call center representatives escalated the matter to a senior representative, none of the senior representatives spoke with a dispatcher to confirm that the reconnection was being prioritized," the report said.
More than three hours after Daniels had died, a senior call representative who learned of her death issued a "trouble order," resulting in a team of "troubleshooters" being sent to the home to restore the power, the report said. That team, according to the report, had been given no prior notice about what had transpired earlier in the day, and arrived more than 12 hours after the family had initially called to report the problem.
"When a member of the Daniels family greeted the senior troubleshooter by expressing through profanity displeasure at his late arrival, the senior troubleshooter felt concerned for his safety and left without reconnecting power to the home," the report said.
'A lack of empathy'
While saying that the Daniels family was "unfailingly polite" during the multiple calls made to PSE&G employees, the response members got in return was "mixed," the company said.
"While some call center representatives were appropriately polite, concerned and — after Mrs. Daniels had passed away — sympathetic, others were dismissive and two representatives showed a notable lack of empathy when speaking to the family members," the report said.
The investigation determined that "senior management" did not learn about the events of the day, and Daniels' death until the following day. The breakdown in communication "deprived the company of an opportunity to restore electric service to the home, and to begin responding to the tragedy on the whole, that night."
"We found that departmental escalation policies were either inapplicable to the situation at the Daniels residence or did not exist at all," the report said. "We found that personnel were not always adequately trained on other potentially useful policies and did not follow them, and that there were instances of lax practices in one department that had unintended consequences in another
"We believe it is imperative that PSE&G reconcile discrepancies between its policies and practices."
In the three months since Daniels died, the company said in a response it issued with the report, it has taken several steps to improve its practices. Those include revisions to how situations are escalated withing the company, new procedures to ensure customers who have medical needs are properly addressed, and better integration of various systems.
In addition, company employees are receiving new training in empathy and other "soft skills," according to the report.
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