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New Zealander on oxygen machine dies after power disconnection

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New Zealander Folole Muliaga died Tuesday morning after Mercury Energy cut off the power in her household due to $168.40 of unpaid bills. Mrs Folole Muliaga was seriously ill and dependent on an oxygen life support machine that required electricity to run.

The 44-year-old died two and a half hours after the power was cut by a contractor, working for State Owned Enterprise, Mercury Energy. A spokesperson for Mercury Energy has said that they are devastated and deeply sympathetic by the news, but state they did not know that the power was needed to run the oxygen machine. They have stated that discretion is exercised in cases of extreme hardship or when medical conditions make it appropriate and that the same contractor had done so the previous day. However, relatives claim that the contractor was told that the power was needed by family members present, was invited into the house and talked to Mrs Folole Muliaga, but showed no discretion or compassion under the circumstances.

The power was cut at about 11am. Brendan Sheehan, spokesperson for the family, said that after the power was cut, Mrs Muliaga suffered from breathing difficulties. During this time Mrs Mulianga declined an offer for an ambulance from family members. At about 1pm she informed her sons that she was feeling dizzy and asked for hymns to be sung. Her condition quickly deteriorated until she couldn’t speak. When she passed out at 1:32pm, an ambulance was called but Mrs Mulianga could not be revived when it arrived 12 minutes later.

That same evening remaining family members claim they had to grieve in the dark, power was only reconnected after the outstanding amount of $168.40 was paid to Mercury Energy. Mercury Energy claim that the were initially only made aware that a funeral was going to take place and attempted to reconnect the supply at midnight once the full circumstances were made clear but were unable to contact the family. They state the supply was eventually reconnected before 8am the next day. Evidence has been provided by family members to show that they had made two payments to Mercury Energy in the same month trying to clear their outstanding bill, $61.90 on 1 May 2007, and $45 on 17 May 2007.

Trevor Mallard, minister of State Owned Enterprises, said, “I do think it is important that the facts are established before people rush to judgement.”

Both the New Zealand Police and Mercury Energy, the retail operating division of Mighty River Power, are conducting investigations into the events.

The mother-of-four school teacher lived in Mangere, South Auckland and had been suffering from a heart and lung condition, according to relatives of Mrs Muliaga, since February.

Hospital doctors have expressed surprise at the short length of time between when the supply was cut and the death occurred. They have also explained that relatives are trained what to do if the supply is lost, including to call for an ambulance if severe symptoms develop.

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