A Bronx Grandmother Complained Repeatedly to NYCHA About Elevator Outages. Now She’s in a Coma After Falling in the Stairwell
Public housing tenant Eleanor Dowe lies in a coma in the intensive care unit at Bronx Lebanon Hospital — and her family blames NYCHA’s failure to do its job.
The family alleges that the 66-year-old Bronx grandmother took the stairwell from her 19th floor apartment Saturday morning because both of the elevators in her building at the Webster Houses were not functioning properly.
A few steps in, they say, she slipped and struck her head, causing a severe brain injury. She had been on her way to a dialysis appointment at the time of the accident.
“It’s something that could have been fixed and that didn’t happen,” said her daughter, Annette Dowe. “And that’s why I’m angry.”
As THE CITY reported in August, NYCHA has struggled during the pandemic to keep up with a rash of elevator outages across its 175,000 apartment portfolio.
As of Tuesday morning, at least one elevator had gone out of service within the previous 24 hours at 143 developments, NYCHA records show.
All but 11 outages had been reported resolved by late Tuesday, although it took more than a day to restore service at 25 of the 143 complexes. At the Washington Houses in East Harlem, for example, one elevator was out for nine days, the records show.
Dowe’s Webster Avenue building and another in the Morrisania public housing complex are among the NYCHA residences hit by lift failures over the last few days.
A Litany of Calls
Dowe, a tenant leader in her building, had made 15 calls to NYCHA about broken elevators since August, her family said Tuesday.
The reports accelerated during the final days of 2020, according to a log of her mother’s calls kept by Annette Dowe, who lives in a different building in the complex.
On Dec. 30, Annette, 52, said her mother called NYCHA’s command center to report a non-functioning elevator. At the time, Annette said, one of the elevators would not stop on her mother’s floor.
A printout of all of Eleanor Dowe’s calls to the command center states that on Dec. 30, she’d reported an “elevator out of order” from 8 a.m. to noon. The complaint was listed as “Closed,” indicating NYCHA sent someone to repair the elevator.
It’s not clear how NYCHA responded because the next day — New Year’s Eve — Dowe made another call to report a lift out of order, this time from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. NYCHA listed the job as “Complete.”
On New Year’s Day, she made yet another call, the record shows. “She knew she had a dialysis appointment the next day, so she called them again,” Annette Dowe said, noting her mother has diabetes.
This time the record states Eleanor Dowe reported an “elevator running with a problem.” The log lists this call as “Approved,” indicating a formal repair request was generated.
At about 7:30 a.m. Saturday, her family says, Dowe headed out of her apartment for her appointment. She’d called the Access-A-Ride program and a van was waiting downstairs, Annette Dowe said.
At the time, according to Annette, one elevator was out of service and the other was skipping the 19th floor. So Eleanor Dowe decided to walk down to the 18th floor to catch the lift there — but fell in the stairwell and fractured her skull, her daughter said.
She was able to dial 911 and summon an ambulance. She also called her daughter.
EMTs found Eleanor Dowe in the stairwell between the 18th and 19th floor and took her to Bronx Lebanon a few blocks away.
A CAT scan revealed bleeding on the brain and soon after Dowe fell into a coma. She has been on life support since, her daughter said.
“They knew my mother is a diabetes patient. They were aware of it,” she said of NYCHA officials. “I don’t know if they have a heart or they don’t have the people to do the job.”
NYCHA Disputes Timeline
Rochel Leah Goldblatt, a NYCHA spokesperson, insisted Tuesday that both of the elevators were in operation at the time Eleanor Dowe fell — saying that the elevator outage wasn’t reported until around 1 p.m. on Jan. 2 — after the accident.
“There are two elevators in this building at Webster Houses and both were operable on the morning of Jan. 2,” Goldblatt said. “One of the elevators was not in operation for approximately 1.5 hours that afternoon, while the other elevator was working and available for use.”
NYCHA officials did not address the status of each of the call log entries, including the reference to an elevator “running with a problem” the day before Dowe fell.
They said the elevator that went out in her building was back in operation within an hour and a half, although as of mid-day Monday NYCHA’s website stated that a lift at that address had been out for eight hours before being restored.
The Whole Family is Praying
Dowe’s family was joined at a news conference Tuesday outside the Webster Houses by elected officials, including City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera (D-The Bronx) and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who is running for mayor, along with Danny Barber, chair of the Council of Presidents, the NYCHA tenant leader group.
The officials called on NYCHA to accelerate its elevator repair program, which has already received funding from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
As THE CITY has reported, NYCHA experienced a 75% spike in elevator outages during the early months of the pandemic, from 429 the week of April 5 to 746 by the week of June 7.
Even before the crisis hit, the federal monitor who oversees the housing authority noted a shortage of elevator mechanics and mechanics’ helpers.
For a time, NYCHA was forced to use laborers as mechanics’ helpers. The job requires a three-year apprenticeship, but NYCHA was allowing the laborers to shadow qualified elevator mechanics for three weeks before assigning them to repair jobs.
Late Tuesday, Annette Dowe visited her mother at Bronx Lebanon, unsure of her prospects for recovery.
“The whole family is praying,” she said.