Did lack of phone service contribute to woman's death?

August 18, 2011 7:33:51 AM PDT
The frustration and anger felt by one Long Island family is overshadowed by their grief, having lost their matriarch.

Still they are asking one of the largest companies in this country, what does it take to restore phone service? Especially if that service is a lifeline and needed in a critical situation.

After a lifetime together, Ruth and Burton Bellask were going to celebrate 65 years as husband and wife.

That special occasion, though, has been lost with Ruth's sudden and unexpected death. Burton was unable to call for help.

"It is a travesty that a company like Verizon that has an influence on long island all over the place would leave elderly people out on a limb like this. It's terrible," said Steven Bellask, their son.

Ruth and Burton returned to their home in Melville from a vacation 10 days ago to find they didn't have phone service.

The phone rings, but when it's answered, there is only static.

For Burton, the dedicated phone line is a lifeline.

"He puts a device on the phone. And the phone attaches to a computer at st. Francis hospital and they check the viability of his devices he has inside," Steven said.

A pacemaker and defibrillator, his family says. So Ruth went to work.

"They at first got nothing. And she called from her cell phone and made repeated attempts for them to come," daughter in-law Lori Bellask said.

Two Verizon workers did finally appear three days later, according to an email ruth sent to Verizon. She said they located a break in a cable and hoped they put in a work order to have it repaired.

She stressed in the email, "This is a medical emergency as my husband has a heart condition."

"And he can't use a cell phone because of the condition he has. It interrupts with the waves that he has in the pacemaker," Steven said.

Four days later Ruth received an email from Verizon apologizing for "the delay in our response and regret any inconvenience."

It goes on to promise "there is a repair report scheduled for completion on August 15, 2010 no later than 6:55pm." The date appears to be wrong.

This, her family says, is now eight days since Ruth discovered her phone had no service.

Verizon, which is in the ninth day of a strike by communication workers, said in a statement, "given the medical emergency that was reported to Verizon, the company expedited the repair visits."

A spokesman also says repair workers were sent out "to work on two separate and unrelated problems on the family's line."

"Hours and hours on the phone trying to make Verizon understand the severity of this being that my father in law is not a well man and both of them being elderly," Lori said.

Then unexpectedly Ruth wakes up Tuesday morning in distress her family says with labored breathing.

Burton still has no service on this phone they say and cannot use a cell phone to call for help.

"He has to go out and tap on neighbors doors to try and wake them up for them to call," Steven said.

First responders eventually arrived, but Ruth passed away.

Even after her death, there is still no service on the phone.

"For a big company like Verizon to do something like that is terrible. It's a shame," Steven said.

"Shame on them," Lori added.

The Bellask family believes there should be a priority system put into place when it comes to the elderly and those with special needs.