Marty Stempniak, Staff Writer

Seeing others hurt so badly by the just-ended (or at least temporarily on hold), government shutdown, it might be easy for some to say “not my problem.” But one busy, Illinois-based provider refused to take that bent.

A few days before the shutdown ended last week, leaders at Legacy Healthcare knew that federal workers were about to hit their second Friday without getting a paycheck. Wanting to do something to remedy the situation, the Skokie, IL, company — which includes 29 SNFs — opened up its pocketbook.

All furloughed workers had to do was show their government-issued photo IDs and they were entitled to $50 a week per family in groceries, covered by Legacy. In those two and a half days before the shutdown ended, more than 150 families took advantage of the perk, totaling a tab of $7,624.88.

Legacy spokeswoman Katy Shorkey told me those dollars aren’t coming out of some sizeable contingency fund, as the provider just wanted to help first and sort out the bill later. She relayed stories of federal workers sobbing at the checkout line, so overcome with gratitude for the thoughtful gesture. (I tried speaking with the grocery store owner Monday, but she said she was slammed with customers.) The two Happy Food grocers that participated are on Chicago’s far Northside, near the city’s massive O’Hare airport; many of those who took advantage were furloughed TSA workers.

“We actually don’t have a reserved amount for this. It’s just something that the owners really believed in,” Shorkey told me. “So, we said we’re going to come together as a team and figure out the ins and outs of how we’re going to pay for it afterward, but let’s just, right now, reinvest in our community and see if we can help these people.”

Legacy, in its initial announcement, even left this offer open-ended, to continue until whenever the shutdown wrapped up. It specified, however, that the allowance did not include alcohol. Chief Operating Officer Shai Berdugo pulled the trigger on the idea, emphasizing that it’s important for operators to care for their communities, beyond just the traditional skilled care for which they’re known.

“The decision to help furloughed workers was an easy one,” Berdugo said. “Our daily motto is ‘Because We Care,’ and it embodies what we believe in and demonstrate on a daily basis. These workers are members of our community and we’ve always considered our community to be bigger than ourselves.”

Legacy wasn’t alone in taking this line of thinking last week. Premier Senior Living opened up its doors to offer free meals to furloughed federal workers. Before the federal government reopened, the offer stood at all 23 of the New York-based company’s senior living communities, which stretch across seven states. Owner Wayne Kaplan told our sister pub, McKnight’s Senior Living, that “it just seemed like the right thing to do.” They always have leftover food at mealtimes, anyway, so why the heck not?

And while both of these institutions had nothing but the thought of helping others on mind, I have to figure there are other spillover benefits. For Legacy, they also helped out an independent local grocer, and at the same time they’re building good will among residents and politicians alike. I’m sure it will come in handy the next time a big zoning decision or rate cut is being weighed by the local legislature, or someone’s family needs skilled care. Seems like sound corporate stewardship to me.  

Follow Staff Writer Marty Stempniak @MStempniak.