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'I couldn't survive without that:' Jacksonville woman worried she'll die if medical device stops working when utilities are turned off

Terri Stephens is one of more than 40,000 people in danger of having her power shut off due to late or overdue payments to JEA.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — On Monday, disconnections will have started for JEA customers with overdue and late payment notices. 

Right now there are nearly 5,000 customers who are in danger of having their power disconnected. Previously, that number was more than 40,000. 

Like tens of thousands of people in our area, a history of late or overdue payments means that Terri Stephens is in danger of having her power disconnected on Monday. For Stephens this issue is actually life or death.

The most important things in her life are on one table, her medical devices and pictures of her grandkids. Terri Stephens is disabled and participated in a sleep study that determined she stops breathing six to seven times every night.

"I couldn't survive," said Stephens, "I couldn't survive without the asthma machine and the COPD machine at night. I have to use that when I go to sleep, if I don't have that my breath will be cut off."

In part, because she relies on medical devices that run on electricity, Stephens currently owes JEA $642. Admittedly, she hasn't paid her bill in more than three months and can't get an extension.

"If I had the money to do a payment, I would pay my bill," said Stephens. "I talked to them (JEA) today, they ain't holding nothing back, they're going to start cutting lights on Monday."

Although, conditions in her apartment also require her to keep the air conditioner going at all times.

"I have to keep my air on in here because there's some type of mold or mildew in here that messes with my asthma," said Stephens. "That's the reason why it's high."

Before she got sick her life was heading in the right direction, Stephens was on the Dean's List at UNF. She went back to school as a promise to her mother after dropping out more than 25 years earlier when she was pregnant with her son

"When I went back I was really into it, I kept making A's and B's every semester, I wish I could use this," said Stephens as she looks at her Dean's List certificate.

But now the 55-year-old with a degree in Health Care Administration is waiting to see if her lights and her medical devices will be turned off.

But will JEA cut off power to someone with a medical situation like Stephens?

That's a question we brought directly to JEA. The utility company's response is: 

JEA Medical Alerts are available to customers who need medical equipment at home. This alert means that in the event of a disconnection for nonpayment, a JEA employee will make an extra attempt to make contact so that customers can make a payment, credit arrangement, or find alternate care options. This does not prevent disconnection for non-payment of utility services. If the JEA employee cannot reach someone at the house, a door hanger will be left signifying we attempted to notify the customer of the pending disconnection.

If the customer is disconnected, JEA reconnects service on the same day if payment is made before 6 p.m. Monday to Friday.

JEA will begin disconnecting customer power on Monday and will start with those who have overdue bills dating back the furthest. Five days after electricity is shut off JEA will then shut off water if overdue bills are not paid.

If you are interested in helping Stephens, you can email Rich Donnelly at rdonnelly@firstcoastnews.com.

JEA customers can log into their accounts to request an extension or payment plan 24-hours a day, through Sunday at midnight.

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