Friends raise funds for furloughed Forest Service worker’s medical bills
January 20, 2019
ASPEN, Colo. – The stress for furloughed employees over not knowing when they will be back to work and collecting a paycheck is tough enough. Circumstances are even more daunting right now for U.S. Forest Service employee Bret Conant and his family.
Bret's wife, Esther, gave birth to their second child on Jan. 3. Lars was born at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, and it was soon determined that he had an intestinal blockage that required surgery at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver.
"He had surgery, then was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis," Bret said via telephone Thursday from the hospital.
The Conants have stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Denver, just a few blocks from the hospital.
"Those guys do an amazing job," Bret said.
Having that resource has been a huge relief for the couple. Nevertheless, they are racking up expenses being away from home. Conant said his health insurance through the Forest Service is still in effect, but his family will soon be billed for the deductible and charges that aren't covered. The recovery process is expected to keep Lars at the Denver hospital for the foreseeable future.
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Meanwhile, like other furloughed federal workers, Conant isn't collecting a paycheck. The partial government hits day 28 today. He is an engineering technician in the White River National Forest. His work takes him throughout the 2.3 million-acre forest, including the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District.
Conant said his family's situation drives home the fact that federal workers need to be collecting their pay.
"People have lives — they need to get a paycheck to deal with everyday life," he said. "I wouldn't be back working even if the government was open right now, but at least I'd be getting a check."
A GoFundMe page was started by Denise Barkhurst, whose husband is Bret's supervisor. Her husband told her about the Conants' situation and she was stirred to action even though she has not met the family.
"I don't know them," she said. "I've never met them."
But Barkhurst said their plight reminded her of how worried she and her husband were when their now-grown son was facing serious illness when he was just 18 months old.
"That was the most scared I've ever been," she said. "I couldn't imagine being that scared and not having a paycheck.
"Somebody had to step up and do something."
Barkhurst had never started a GoFundMe page but consulted with a friend and easily tackled it. She sleuthed to get personal phone numbers and email addresses from Forest Service workers, who cannot use their government-issued methods of communication during the shutdown, to collect information and share word of the fundraising effort.
She was humble Thursday about the effort.
"It was a human thing to do," she said.
The GoFundMe page can be found by searching the Conants' name on http://www.gofundme.com. The fundraising effort will help the family handle expenses.
"We're just really grateful for the support," Bret said, noting it will be a big help when the medical bills arrive.
Conant said he isn't taking sides in the fight between Democrats in Congress and President Donald Trump that led to the shutdown. He just finds the situation frustrating and he feels particularly bad for employees who are required to work but aren't getting paid.
"On behalf of all federal employees who are laid off right now, I feel violated," he said. "I work hard for the agency I work for. I try to do the best job I can as a public servant."
Conant said his family is optimistic for Lars' recovery from surgery. In addition, there have been advances in the treatment of cystic fibrosis that give the family hope for the future.