The HoS has an exclusive story that Folole Muliaga was fatally ill, and expected to die in the near future as she had refused to keep taking the cocktail of powerful medication keeping her alive, in favour of traditional health care.
This doesn’t mean that the chairwoman of Mighty River Power is not correct when she says “no one should ever die because they can’t pay a power bill”. In fact no at all is arguing that a power company should disconnect power, if they are aware it would kill someone. NZ is indeed not that sort of society and it is unfortunate unbalanced media coverage has suggested we are.
What is still not known is what actually killed Muliaga, and what the contractor (himself a Pacific Islander) did or did not know.
This doesn’t stop Kerre Woodham from putting the pathologist out of a job. She writes:
I’m no medical expert but surely, if you combine heart disease with panic – panic that her source of oxygen was gone, panic about the wellbeing of her family living in a home without electricity, panic about how on earth she was going to pay the arrears and a disconnection fee – that would pretty much strain a weak heart.
Who needs a post-mortem, when we have Dr Kerre.
The SST has an interview with the Chair of Might River Power, who makes the point:
But Durbin said regardless of what was found to be the cause of death, “this has raised an issue that needs to be resolved”.
“At the moment the only way we know somebody’s in a vulnerable position is if they tell us. The health authorities don’t tell us, the social welfare agencies don’t tell us, and we would think that maybe part of the answer might lie in those direct communication channels.”
While at this stage there are certainly things Mercury could have done better (I do think they disconnect at too early a stage – should be when bills are three months+ overdue with no history of part payments), the long term answer is probably changing the Privacy Act to allow direct communication channels to be established. That’s going to be more effective than expecting electricians to implicitly guess that someone may be on an oxygen machine which needs power, because they had a medical tube in their nose.