Women, Infants and Port-a-johns

Navajo Times | Christopher S. Pineo
The portable toilet at the WIC office in Wheatfields, which employees say has not been emptied in over a month.

Published March 12, 2017

WHEATFIELDS, ARIZONA – If the poster about how it’s illegal to hock federal-program-acquired baby formula on the black market doesn’t distract you, you’ll probably get an earful of other clients’ business at the Women, Infants, and Children Program office in Wheatfields, Arizona.

Located inside two attached hogans south of the chapter house, the office space and the amount of equipment in storage makes it impossible to separate clients waiting in the office from clients being served by WIC staff, according to supervisor and principal nutritionist Annette Blackhorse.

“They hear everything, even if they’re not eavesdropping,” said Blackhorse.

Blackhorse said the staff tells people that their information is confidential, but the room they could use as a waiting area being full of breast-milk pumps, informational materials, and other equipment puts clients within feet of each other while discussing personal information.

Federal regulations of the program make details of applicants and participants confidential, but things like having a scale in the same room where people are waiting might be uncomfortable for pregnant or new mothers. According to a 2014 policy memo, WIC state, regional, or local directors must make written agreements with groups seeking applicant and participant information. But in Wheatfields, finding out the weight of a mother participating in the program – or the height and weight of her baby for that matter – is as easy as sitting in the waiting room.

If mothers aren’t comfortable with getting weighed in front of an audience, they’re probably even less comfortable using the restroom. Less than a hundred feet away from the building, a portable toilet hasn’t been emptied in a month according to Blackhorse and another staff member at the office. There is no running water at the WIC office.

They sometimes tell clients to use nearby facilities rather than the outdoor restroom, which stood in 35-degree weather when the Navajo Times visited.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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