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Food bank helps federal workers at Arizona hospital

January 19, 2019
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A crowd of federal workers and patients wait in line outside Phoenix Indian Medical Center to pick up food bank donations on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, in Phoenix. Employees of the hospital, which serves Native Americans, are accepting food from St. Mary's Food Bank as the government shutdown enters its 28th day. (AP Photo/Terry Tang)

PHOENIX (AP) — Federal workers at an Arizona hospital where many are going without pay during the government shutdown saw some relief Friday from a mobile food pantry.

Dozens of employees, some in medical scrubs, waited in line in the Phoenix Indian Medical Center parking lot to pick up donation bags and boxes as the shutdown entered its 28th day.

Some who were on furlough drove up so volunteers could load their cars with provisions.

The items hauled over by St. Mary’s Food Bank included eggs, milk, bread, potatoes, apples, grapes and non-perishables like pasta and canned goods.

The hospital approached the nonprofit after the food bank did a similar operation for Transportation Security Administration workers on Monday.

The lines also included relatives of employees. Christina Nez said her aunt, who is a medical records clerk at the hospital, couldn’t take a break to pick up a food box. She also thinks her 50-year-old aunt was somewhat embarrassed.

“She’s never had to go and resort to help like this,” Nez said.

Nez said her aunt recently moved in with her because she couldn’t make the next month’s rent or utility expenses. She said she thinks the Trump administration and other politicians would act quickly if they truly appreciated federal workers.

“The administration is basically playing with these people’s lives,” Nez said. “It’s just a game of trying to hold out.”

St. Mary’s CEO Tom Kertis said there is no reason for any worker to feel self-conscious about accepting donated food.

“They need to look at it as we’re supporting them during this difficult time,” Kertis said. “Hopefully, it takes a little bit of the pressure off.”

The charity plans to help for the shutdown’s duration, he added.

The medical center, which serves Native Americans, employs more than 1,200 people and is run by the Indian Health Service. It is still offering primary and specialty care during the shutdown, said the facility’s CEO Deana Dick.

She also expressed gratitude for the food bank and its ability to put something together so promptly.

“We want to make sure our staff and patients feel cared for. That’s definitely happening today,” she said.

About 9,000 Indian Health Service employees overall, or 60 percent, are working without pay and 35 percent are working with funding streams not affected by the shutdown, according to the Health and Human Services department’s shutdown plan. That includes staff providing direct care to patients. An additional 5 percent who are mostly administrative workers are being furloughed.

The agency delivers health care to about 2.2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives. For many tribal members, IHS is the only option for health care unless they want to pay out of pocket or have other insurance.

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