Just a few days ago, we put out the call for stories from Eversource customers about communication issues or problems they’ve experienced with the utility beyond just frustratingly long outages. Our Eversource stories list is Ever-growing, as Wilton residents filled GOOD Morning Wilton‘s inbox with them. But one email stood apart from the rest.
It was sent to us Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 11, by Carole Southall, whose husband Hermon Telyan was just diagnosed earlier this year with terminal stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Hermon had been under hospice care at their home on Wilton’s Freshwater Lane when Tropical Storm Isaias hit a week ago.
Carole said their power went out around 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, Aug. 4, just as the storm hit. Within an hour she was on the phone with Eversource, to ask them to please help her husband, who is, in her words, “near the end of his life.”
“I called Eversource and explained that he was on oxygen and that we needed water for his care and cleaning. I asked if there was any medical priority and the representative told me, ‘No priorities of any kind… not even medical.'”
Soon after, Carole heard about a medical list of some sort.
“I got one of [First Selectwoman] Lynne Vanderslice‘s Code Red calls and she said something about ‘priority for medical,’ so I tried again to call Eversource again–my first call had only been a 15-minute wait–it started being 40 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes. And by then Hermon was already in the hospital. So I just said, ‘Okay, he’s fine where he is.'”
But being in the hospital is not the way Hermon has hoped to spend his last days. Carole had to revoke Hermon’s hospice orders to get him admitted to Norwalk Hospital. Now, instead of being able to remain comfortable at home with his wife, children, and occasional visitors, Hermon has spent the past week at the hospital which has imposed strict limits about who can visit, with a maximum of two people per day, and only one at a time.
“Hermon wants his final hours to be in his own home with all of us, not one at a time,” Carole laments. She also gave up on trying to get in touch with anyone at Eversource, not wanting to waste any time she has with Hermon.
“I checked the website all the time, but I’ll do anything except sit on hold,” she adds.
By Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 11–eight days after the power first went out at Hermon and Carole’s Freshwater Lane house–there was still no power.
Medical Customers Still without Power–Yet Company Says It’s “On Track”
Tropical Storm Isaias unleashed its destructive winds on Connecticut, leaving more than 630,000 customers in the state without power and causing historic damage to Eversource’s equipment, towers, transformers, and transfer stations. It was catastrophic for almost everyone.
Statewide, the utility has been faulted for its lackluster response, with Gov. Ned Lamont calling for an investigation just one day after the storm. Here in Wilton, Vanderslice has openly criticized the company after initially being unsuccessful in getting answers from Eversource, telling residents in one update, “It is appalling that six days in, we are still asking: What is the plan? Where are the crews?” she wrote, adding, “This is a horrible situation. It is difficult to be patient.”
Vanderslice clarified with GMW that her contact at Eversource explained the company keeps track of customers who have registered their medical issues before any major outage. “It’s a consideration, but it doesn’t give anyone priority,” she said she was told. It’s information that Eversource needs to know about before an event–if contact is made while a storm is ongoing or afterward, it’s more difficult for the customer to be tagged as medically needy.
As of Tuesday morning Aug. 11–eight days after Isaias hit the state, Vanderslice said there were 17 customers on that medically needy list who were still without power.
Later that same Tuesday, Eversource’s communications department sent out a press release proclaiming, “Eversource Perseveres to Complete Restoration Efforts,” stating, “Thousands of crews make solid progress, remain on track to restore power to 99% of customers by tonight.”
According to the release, Eversource had more than 2,500 line and tree crews working nonstop across the state to repair the extensive damage and restore remaining outages. The release estimated that while nearly 26,000 customers were still without power by that point, the majority were “on track” to get power back by Tuesday, Aug. 11, at 11:59 p.m.
The release quotes Eversource President of Regional Electric Operations Craig Hallstrom referring to “…the late stages of the restoration process where the final outages often call for extensive repairs that are labor-intensive and time-consuming,” and adding, “Our massive team–in the field and behind the scenes–is fully committed to every single customer affected by Isaias and is working urgently to complete this restoration.”
Medical Customers–Consider a Generator or Solar
Tuesday evening around 7 p.m., we contacted Eversource’s communications team for a comment about Hermon’s situation and to ask about the company’s policy on customers they know have medical needs–and whether there’s a limit to how long anyone on the list should expect to be without power. We also wanted to know how it was possible that 17 medically at-risk customers in Wilton could still be without power eight days after the storm first struck?
Like the company’s subcontractors who have been working around the clock, Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross likely has been sleeping very little since the storm hit, fielding a barrage of criticism on behalf of his higher-ups. In situations like this, his department is set up to respond at all hours.
He called GMW Wednesday morning ready to answer whatever we asked.
“Customers with medical issues have the ability to alert us, if they contact customer care, and they alert us of their conditions and those conditions are noted on their accounts. In times like this, we know we have a list where we can reach out by email or by phone concerning issues on the electric system and can alert these customers to make alternate arrangements, whatever they need to do to ensure that they’re in as good a spot as can be, despite the conditions.”
But what about someone like Hermon and Carole, who called during the storm?
“The representative should be entering the information onto their account at that time. Understand things are very fluid during a storm,” Gross said.
Gross said that in the last 24 hours Eversource crews have been “pushing as hard as we can to get them all [remaining customers without power] back on.”
But even with a list of people with medical issues that the company may be aware of, he says there’s little the company can really do during extreme outages like the one CT just experienced.
“Please understand the way the electric system is designed and operates, we can’t turn on the power to an individual home, say on Street A and another individual home on Street C. We have to ensure that the circuits that deliver power to all of the customers on those streets is operating correctly, so we’re able to energize everyone on those streets,” he said, adding, “Maybe I’m stating the obvious here, the only way customers can ensure … is a generator, basically, a generator standing by to kick in if needed, or if they have solar.”
By 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, Aug. 12, the company had made progress–all but 69 of Eversource’s 7,532 Wilton customers had their power restored–among them the 14 homes on Freshwater Lane, including Hermon and Carole Telyan’s.
Carole said Hermon would be heading home from Norwalk Hospital on Wednesday.
GMW received an email from some North Wilton readers, about an elderly neighbor they said was “in distress.”
“[His] looks to be the only house in our neighborhood still without power. [We] just helped him refill his generator but he has health issues (he was recently hospitalized for two weeks) and says that if he can’t get power on by the time this round of juice runs out he’s just going to have to call 911. He says he’s had electric trucks in front of his house that told him they can’t help him apparently,” they wrote, adding, “He is certainly not the only person in town still struggling but we are trying to help him out as he lives on his own.”
Eversource’s Mitch Gross said if there’s a single customer on a street that can’t be restored, often the issue is the service line that runs from the street to the house–that there’s been damage to the electrical equipment to the side of the customer’s house–and it’s likely the customer’s responsibility.
“Aside from [the customer] calling in outside help and an electrician/contractor to repair it, he needs to reach out and let us know that he’s the only one on the street permanently without power. We’re responding to these issues as quick as we can,” Gross said.
GMW forwarded the issue to Lynne Vanderslice, who responded quickly: “[His address] is/was on this morning’s 7:30 [a.m.] outage list. My assistant Jackie has been in contact with him. We escalated this to Eversource.”
Wednesday morning, Eversource hit its 99% restored goal, with fewer than 1,650 customers still without power today.