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A sad end indeed
March 11, 2010 5:25 PM   Subscribe

Once-revered S.C. lawmaker freezes to death alone. Maybe it's OK to get in someone's business and force them to get help? A terrible way to go out.
posted by fixedgear (50 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is it legal for utility companies to turn off power because of nonpayment during winter in the US? This is illegal in Norway, and as far as I understand, in several other countries.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:27 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are so many Southern state lawmakers who deserve to freeze to death alone in their own homes. This was not one of them.

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posted by Countess Elena at 5:28 PM on March 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


Joakim, that would be a matter of state law. SC being a warm state in general, I would hazard a guess that there is no such protection, but I have no idea really.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:30 PM on March 11, 2010


She had money to pay her bills, but the utility company said it shut off the electricity for nonpayment Feb. 23.

Tragic.
posted by mek at 5:35 PM on March 11, 2010


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posted by cashman at 5:36 PM on March 11, 2010


...he found indications of dementia. When she died, during a cold snap, Goggins was wearing several layers of clothing, yet her heat was working at the time.

She had money to pay her bills, but the utility company said it shut off the electricity for nonpayment Feb. 23. Watts said it appeared Goggins was using Sterno to cook, but her stove was still functioning..


This is so very sad. Fuck you, dementia.
posted by applemeat at 5:37 PM on March 11, 2010 [2 favorites]



Is it legal for utility companies to turn off power because of nonpayment during winter in the US? This is illegal in Norway, and as far as I understand, in several other countries.


Well in the US it's legal to kick people off their insurance and have them die for lack of medical care if that's what makes the industry the most profit so.......
posted by hamida2242 at 5:39 PM on March 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Wouldn't the property management company have received notices from the power company that their tenant was not paying? Here in Oregon that happens, so I'm aware when my tenants aren't making payment. Hummm....
posted by threadbare at 5:39 PM on March 11, 2010


Joakim -- it's definitely a state by state thing; here in Minnesota it's illegal to cancel heat or electricity without some significant hurdles for the company.
posted by Think_Long at 5:41 PM on March 11, 2010


They shut off her electricity, but not her heat.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:43 PM on March 11, 2010


She had money to pay her bills, but the utility company said it shut off the electricity for nonpayment Feb. 23.

Didn't this also happen with a guy in a northern state (MI, WI, maybe?) who also had thousands in the bank, but froze to death after the heat was turned off for non-payment? In both cases, senile dementia seems to be the root cause...perhaps older people (75+?) living alone should get a home visit from a social worker if they haven't paid indispensable utilities 2 months in a row.
posted by availablelight at 5:44 PM on March 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I think in Philly it's no shut-offs Nov - Apr, based on tragedies like this.
posted by fixedgear at 5:47 PM on March 11, 2010


It's absolutely OK to get in someone's business and force them to get help if they're no longer able to help themselves. The problem is that it's hard to know when that point has arrived, and to know how much help a person may need when it does. In Ms. Goggins's case, it sounds like she had a number of friends and neighbours who did their best to help her, but none of them really knew the woman well enough to understand the trouble she was in. Our society values independence, so the only people who are really allowed to force their way into your life (if you don't want them to) are family members, and it sounds like her son lived in another state, so no help was coming from that direction. It's really sad, because who knows, maybe Ms. Goggins would have been fine if she'd had a little help, like a nurse or social worker who dropped by once a week to make sure the heat and electricity were on.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:51 PM on March 11, 2010


If you're interested where you state stands with it's policies regarding heat shut off during the winter, look here.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:51 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or what availablelight said. This thread moves fast.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:53 PM on March 11, 2010


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posted by dancestoblue at 5:55 PM on March 11, 2010


Dementia care in this country is highly variable by county and city, let alone state, and even when it's comparatively good it's poor. I know; not only does my father have dementia, but my mother is a county social worker. There are very few resources available even though the entire point of the program she works for is to keep people in their homes, and out of ultra-expensive nursing care, as long as possible.

At the same time, dementia can creep up so slowly that even family members -- perhaps especially family members -- are in a poor position to notice the changes. From bitter experience, it was only after things became really bad that we looked back and concluded that my dad had been symptomatic for years.

I made a Wikipedia article for Ms. Goggins.
posted by dhartung at 6:02 PM on March 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


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posted by localhuman at 6:05 PM on March 11, 2010


Don't get the time-line confused, the electricity was shut off only after she died.
Coroner Gary Watts said she died of hypothermia, probably about Feb. 20, and said he found indications of dementia. When she died, during a cold snap, Goggins was wearing several layers of clothing, yet her heat was working at the time.

She had money to pay her bills, but the utility company said it shut off the electricity for nonpayment Feb. 23.
posted by smackfu at 6:05 PM on March 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Don't get the time-line confused, the electricity was shut off only after she died.

So she was principled. That's so far out of line with your model that it's certainly more evidence of dementia.
posted by nervousfritz at 6:10 PM on March 11, 2010


I'm not very confident in the reporting here. How am I to follow this logic:

-Wearing several layers of clothing
-Heat was working
-Had access to Sterno and was actively using it on an indoor stove
...froze to death?

the electricity was shut off only after she died.

Based on the coroner's best guess made 2 weeks after the fact, we are to believe her power was shut off coincidentally a day or two after she froze to death? And trust the utility company is telling the truth? Sorry, but I don't buy it. The least we can do is enact a law to ensure this never happens again.
posted by mek at 6:16 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good point. She did have electricity, but she stopped using the stove for some reason. Maybe a program like Meals On Wheels could have helped.

It can be really hard for family members to notice that a loved one needs help, because we want the people we love to be okay. But the other side of the coin is that it can be humiliating for a senior to receive assistance or even acknowledge that their situation has changed, so they might actively resist any attempt to help them, or even get mad and cut off contact with the outside world. That's why it's usually family that needs to be there, to push through the barriers and get them the help they need.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:16 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


perhaps older people (75+?) living alone should get a home visit from a social worker if they haven't paid indispensable utilities 2 months in a row.

This seems both wise and good, but I have no doubt that one prominent American political party would block it on general principle. The state looking out for its most vulnerable citizens is apparently anathema to some politicians.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:18 PM on March 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, it's not legal to shut off heat here in MA until April 1st.

This doesn't really appear to be a story of leaving the poor to die (not that I'm saying it was framed exactly that way), but yet another example of how poorly we deal with mental health issues in this country.

Look at Nadal Hassan (Fort Hood shooter), Joseph Stack (IRS plane crasher), Amy Bishop (U of Alabama shooter/probable mail bomber/brother killer), Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab (Attempted Christmas plane bomber), and John Patrick Bedell (Pentagon shooter). These are all just very recent examples, and all people who had shown an obvious disposition towards mental illness before doing something much more destructive to the community than dying at home alone. What did the community/military/government/etc. do? For the most part, nothing. Even when family and community members did speak up, their concerns were unaddressed.

Just looking at the super recent and the super press-worthy, it's pretty obvious that we're failing those with mental illness in this country. Move beyond that, and you'll see veteran suicide rates are out of control, even here in MA. Our prisons are filling with the mentally ill, and they're returning again and again because we don't know how and/or are unwilling to treat them.

It's just sad business all around. Rest in peace, Rep. Goggins.
posted by rollbiz at 6:18 PM on March 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


Apparently this is South Carolina's policy on heat disconnection.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:23 PM on March 11, 2010


Sorry, more on topic: When my great grandmother was finally found by the police after she took off miles into the woods due to dementia, she told them that the reason she did it was because we were trying to lock her up to steal her things and prevent her from going home every weekend (she hadn't been "home" in over five years). She was packed like a fucking Girl Scout though: Food, water, blankets, matches, maps, books, etc...I don't think she really knew long term what to do with it, but my point is that those looking at the heat off and her wearing layers thing as some unexplainable mystery or conspiracy...You don't understand dementia.
posted by rollbiz at 6:25 PM on March 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I will probably die this way. Or my wife will; which ever of us survives the other. We're both kind of like this.

Absolutely, positively, do not intervene. We're not little children. If we're so unable to care for ourselves that we need you to protect us from ourselves then going out is a mercy.

More life is not necessarily better life. If we want your help we will ask for it. More than most people it seems Ms. Goggins had the means to do that if she wanted, and she didn't. Her wish should be respected. She probably knew she was only a fraction of the person she once was, and probably didn't like it much.

I don't want to live as a fraction of the person I once was addled by dementia and wondering why nothing makes any sense. I know my wife doesn't either because we've talked about it, at great length. It's a very, very horrible thing. The only thing I feel bad about w/r/t Ms. Goggins is that she was alone and probably thought herself unremembered. There are probably people who would have stood with her and reminded her of her importance and comforted her as her life faded. But while having their companionship would have been better than dying alone, I know a lot of people (myself and Mrs. included) who would consider dying alone better than dying in the "care" of an ICU while our estate is drained by people who know they aren't actually doing us any good but keep us hanging on in pain as we wind down anyway.
posted by localroger at 6:30 PM on March 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


Sorry, localroger, but while I support right-to-die initiatives and such, I don't think that those who are obviously unable to connect to reality anymore should be allowed to just "do what they want". First of all, "what they want" is often based upon some completely foreign notion of the universe brought upon by mental degradation, and more importantly, "what they want" can harm others. Take aside the examples I already provided, if "what they want" is to turn the gas burners on full blast in my apartment building, I shouldn't intervene?
posted by rollbiz at 6:35 PM on March 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


And it isn't a binary situation where you have to choose between complete independence and being treated like a child. Sometimes all people need is a little help to get them moving in the right direction, like a reminder to take their medication, and they can do the rest themselves. The real enemy is isolation. We just don't have enough human connection in this modern world. Or rather, we have lots of connections like the Internet, but they're all voluntary. There's no small town style everybody-knows-everybody-else's-business connections anymore, so it's really easy to get stuck in a negative feedback loop where you're alone and don't have anyone to turn to.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:43 PM on March 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


I wonder if this is a case of chronic, or secondary, hypothermia? Sometimes the elderly can't thermoregulate well, and they are susceptible to having their core temperature drop slowly over the cases of days or weeks if they keep their home's temperature low. It is entirely possible that she could freeze to death with her heat working (albeit at a low setting, like 60 deg. F.), while bundled up, and without ever knowing it was happening. The onset is slow, the symptoms are subtle, and hypothermia messes with your mind (even without dementia.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:45 PM on March 11, 2010


here in Minnesota it's illegal to cancel heat or electricity without some significant hurdles for the company

Correct; Minnesota Cold Weather Rule from the MN Public Utilities Commission, with details. It's pretty unheard of for someone's heat to be shut off here before April 15.
posted by gimonca at 7:13 PM on March 11, 2010


Very sad.

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posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:23 PM on March 11, 2010


Absolutely, positively, do not intervene.

First of all, "what they want" is often based upon some completely foreign notion of the universe


Yeah. People with dementia do absolutely crazy, fucked-up things for no rhyme or reason. They wander about the streets. They steal things. They drive. They pick fights with strangers, or just scream randomly at people. They turn their stoves on and put houseplants in them and forget about it. It is not just about you, the sufferer, it is about everyone near you as well. When you've got serious dementia, someone needs to intervene, if just for the safety of those around you.
posted by frobozz at 7:24 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I so going to call my grandparents tonight and make sure they feel alright.

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posted by the cydonian at 7:25 PM on March 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Last year, about the same time the Legislature voted to name part of a state highway after her, Goggins was mugged near her home

Who would mug a seventy-four-year-old lady? :(


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posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:47 PM on March 11, 2010


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posted by humannaire at 8:05 PM on March 11, 2010


Who would mug a seventy-four-year-old lady? :

Happened to my other great grandmother, who lived in Wethersfield, CT. Twice. The second time, the guy got her house-keys and threatened to come back, and that was what scared her enough to consider moving in with us in the sticks, which she finally did.
posted by rollbiz at 8:12 PM on March 11, 2010


It's pretty unheard of for someone's heat to be shut off here before April 15.

This is wandering far, far off topic, but I want to point out that electricity does not equal heat in a lot of homes in the Northeast. Sure, they won't shut of your power, but if you don't have them money to pay for your oil then you're pretty much out of luck. No regulatory body oversees oil delivery, and if you're not willing/able to sign up for heating assistance then that's pretty much that.

At my house, were we to stop getting oil for some reason we'd be frozen with the lights on.
posted by anastasiav at 8:26 PM on March 11, 2010


Arkansas' law against disconnecting electricity if it's required for medical devices used by an occupant of the home kept my family's electricity on for over a year when I was a kid.

The electric company even comes out and puts a big orange sticker on the meter reading "DO NOT DISCONNECT". And they can't, for any reason (except perhaps safety).

anastasiav wrote: "I want to point out that electricity does not equal heat in a lot of homes in the Northeast."

Electricity always equals heat. Perhaps not central heat, but space heaters are always an option...
posted by wierdo at 8:50 PM on March 11, 2010


a lot of places have grants to restore heat/electricity but you have to present a shutoff notice to get one.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:17 PM on March 11, 2010


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posted by Smart Dalek at 9:27 PM on March 11, 2010


Jesus, that's awful.

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posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:19 PM on March 11, 2010


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posted by BrotherCaine at 1:55 AM on March 12, 2010


I was just telling somebody last night about a former client of mine who died in similar circumstances. She had gone to Penn and Yale med when black women were virtually non-existent on campus, had worked on early genetic research while in med school and then suffered a psychotic break that left her unable to practice in her field. By the time I encountered her she had been suffering from severe psychosis for decades and was living in a falling down house in West Philly with no heat or hot water in the dead of winter. I almost didn't believe the story about her academic career until I found a copy of the Yale alumni magazine in the piles of junk she hoarded. I Googled her and was able to find an old genetics paper she worked on in the early 1970s. She killed herself not long after I met her.
posted by The Straightener at 6:46 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The least we can do is enact a law to ensure this never happens again.

No, the least we can do is nothing. Tragedy exists, and trying to protect everyone all the time just leads to a complicated and fucked up legal system, culminating in a giant nanny state. If you need to blame someone, look at the son - if your mom has signs of dementia, you better make damn sure her basic needs are being met.

Sometimes you can mourn something for being sad, without trying to fix it.

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posted by chundo at 6:53 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:37 AM on March 12, 2010


Electricity always equals heat. Perhaps not central heat, but space heaters are always an option...

True, but if you're a shut-in who is having trouble paying your electric bill being able to go out and buy an electric space heater if you don't already own one is unlikely, at best.
posted by anastasiav at 7:43 AM on March 12, 2010


If you need to blame someone, look at the son - if your mom has signs of dementia, you better make damn sure her basic needs are being met.

And if she had no son? Or if the son is going through enough problems of his own where even getting down to Columbia might have been impossible? Or, and this is terribly likely, given the joys of slowly encroaching dementia, she had refused to see him or listen to him or have anything to do with him until finally in frustration - and unable to figure out how to help - he threw his arms up and walked away?

We do not, as a society, deal with the elderly well at all. The few resources there are are scattershot and overburdened; there are very hardly any clear guidelines on what dementia is or isn't and what can or should be done about it. There's hardly any social service safety net set up for old people; I believe this is true in most states and it is certainly true in my home state of SC. It's damn near impossible to get real guidance or help and, here's the thing, if you're a person with dementia, you don't realize you need help and, because dementia often comes with a generous side order of paranoia, you are unlikely to seek help if you were even in the mental state to ask for it.

I deal with a relative with dementia on a daily level and believe me, I wish I could find more help, not less, as I struggle to make sure her basic needs are met while she shouts at me about being held prisoner in her home. It's no fun and it is a terrible reflection on this society that the very vulnerable at the end of their lives are ignored so wholeheartedly.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:13 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mental illness makes no bargains and takes no prisoners. George McGovern's daughter Teresa died of hypothermia, losing a battle with alcoholism. I won't say that there was nothing that could have prolonged Representative Goggins' life, but the dementia seems to have taken a toll to the point of destroying the person who was Ms. Goggins. A sad tale.

Still, the measure of her life should be the many positive effects she had and if her death improves the lives of people with mental illness, there may be some positive from this last solitary act also.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:57 PM on March 12, 2010


No, the least we can do is nothing. Tragedy exists, and trying to protect everyone all the time just leads to a complicated and fucked up legal system, culminating in a giant nanny state.

If denying the right of power companies to disconnect utilities in the dead of winter is a step towards a "nanny state", well, sign me up. As linked in this thread, most states with threatening winter conditions have already enacted these laws. As climate change continues, more states will need to adopt these kinds of protections. There is nothing surprising or controversial here. Not letting people freeze to death seems pretty simple to me.
posted by mek at 1:10 AM on March 13, 2010


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