The shocking discovery of a woman’s skeletal remains in her home after two years may prompt changes to the way utility services check up on people who haven’t paid bills.
Regina police found the woman dead after her estranged family requested that they do a wellness check after not hearing from her in quite a while. A coroner’s report on her death called on SaskPower, SaskEnergy and the City of Regina to review their policies to make direct contact or get police to check up on people before turning off vital services like power, heat and water.
The coroner’s report did not identify a specific date of the woman’s death but estimated it was between one to two years before the discovery of her body.
“Given it is impossible to determine if (the unidentified woman) was alive at the time of the utility services being disconnected, a request for the police to conduct a welfare check prior to services being discontinued may have enabled the appropriate help to be provided if (she) was still alive, or if found dead, that (her) demise be handled in a timelier and more dignified manner,” Coroner Victoria McGinley wrote in her report.
SaskPower changing procedures
SaskPower has agreed to coordinate with police services to check up on people and to train employees to look for signs of distress over the phone or while visiting customers.
In an emailed statement, Johnathan Tremblay, a communications person for SaskPower, confirmed the Crown corporation is finalizing details on a new internal process for wellness checks based on this report and case.
The new policy will train front-line employees on how to handle extreme situations such as suicidal behaviour during customer service calls.
“Safety is a priority at SaskPower, and by better training our employees to look for signs of mental and physical distress, we hope we can help save a life,” Tremblay wrote.
The City of Regina has already changed the way it handles customers whose bills are not paid in response to the letter from the provincial coroner.
“Changes include additional attempts to make in-person contact and follow up post disconnection of service that may, if warranted, result in the City directly contacting RPS to complete a welfare checkup,” the City of Regina wrote in an emailed statement.
SaskEnergy adds police checks; says woman was not a customer for several years
SaskEnergy has also added a call to police for a wellness check on customers before turning off natural gas service, but only in the winter when it is considered a safety issue. This will be in addition to an “escalated process” already in place prior to this situation for making direct contact with customers facing service cuts due to unpaid bills.
“In the case of the passing of the woman in Regina, she had not been a customer of SaskEnergy for several years prior to the 1-2 year period identified by the Coroner as when she may have passed away,” Dave Burdeniuk, director of media relations for SaskEnergy, explained in an emailed statement
Burdeniuk said disconnecting natural gas service in the winter is a very rare last resort. It always had to be approved by a committee of senior managers before a decision is made.
“Contact has to be made directly with the customer – either over the phone or in person. We need the customer to understand that they have to prepare their house for loss of gas service in cold weather, which includes draining water from pipes to prevent damage,” Burdeniuk wrote.
“If we feel the customer isn’t able to understand what is happening, we will look to their file to see if they’ve listed another family member or friend as an alternate contact on the bill. If they haven’t, SaskEnergy will look to a community group or other social agency to ask for their assistance with this customer.”
In the statement, Burdeniuk also clarified these processes were already in place before the Crown was contacted by the Coroner to look at additional measures.
— With files from Andrew Shepherd