It took the unlikely death of a wealthy heir to spotlight the gaps in the social safety net protecting our most frail & fragile.
Peter Knoll, age 75, lived alone in his 5-story, multi-million dollar brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a short walk from Central Park & several doors down from Michael Bloomberg’s mansion.
Con Ed knew he didn’t have gas – it had been turned off in 2014. But there’s no mechanism for a public utility to notify a city agency or non-profit organization to check out the circumstances. And it certainly wasn’t something that Knoll shared with his family & friends.
People think of deaths due to cold happening to people exposed to the cold outdoors, but 30% of hypothermia deaths happen from exposure inside a home. In New York City, five people, including Peter Knoll, died of hypothermia – three of them in their home.
It turns out that apartment dwellers are less likely to fall victim to hyperthermia than home owners. Their neighbors are more likely to know what’s happening on the other side of the wall. But elderly or physically fragile people in private homes who don’t access regular social services, who don’t have family & friends checking in, are disasters waiting to happen, especially if – like Peter Knoll – they live alone.
It never occurred to me to write posts about the dangers of hypothermia. During hot weather, I write several posts about checking in on friends family neighbors to avoid hyperthermia. It never dawned on me that cold weather kills, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. twice as many Americans as heat or that more die during moderately cold weather rather during extreme conditions. Starting this fall, will not be so remiss!
Here’s, for me, the strangest thing about Mr. Knoll’s death – Con Ed had been asked to restore gas service in 2014, but didn’t due to a “safety issue.” The older man, sickly & struggling to care for himself, made due with space heaters & staying with friends during extreme cold.
The Public Service Commission is investigating the circumstances.
According to the NY Daily News, it’s the agency’s first such probe since 2001.