News Article Details

Hmong leaders hope to save mental health care center Kajsiab House

Wisconsin State Journal - 9/5/2018

Sept. 05--Leaders in Madison's Hmong community are hoping to raise money to keep a Hmong-focused mental health care center open after operator Journey Mental Health Center announced plans to close it.

Hmong community leaders and elders spoke at a news conference Tuesday about the importance of the Kajsiab House's services and staff specializing in Hmong culture. The center will close Sept. 28 unless money can be raised to continue operations while a long-term solution is found.

Journey announced the decision to close Kajsiab (pronounced ka-shee-ah) House last month. Peng Her, CEO of the Hmong Institute, said the community it serves was not given any warning that closure was a possibility.

Speaking through a translator, Bao Xiong cried as she described Kajsiab House's role in her life.

"Everything on a daily basis surrounding my life depends on Kajsiab House," Xiong said. "Without Kajsiab House, I won't have any support and I don't know what will happen."

Many Hmong elders in Wisconsin suffer post-traumatic stress and depression linked to their service in the Vietnam War -- when they fought alongside American troops -- and postwar experience in refugee camps. Adjusting to life in America has been difficult as well.

Journey President and CEO Lynn Brady said Journey has to close Kajsiab House, 3518 Memorial Drive, because it is accruing deficits that Journey cannot absorb and which Dane County also likely will not cover. By the end of the year, it would have a deficit of a half a million dollars, Brady said. Other programs within Journey are also shifting or combining to reduce costs and deficits, she said.

"If we don't take care of these deficits, we won't have any services to provide," Brady said.

One factor in Kajsiab House's closure was the decision by Missouri-based MTM Inc. -- which holds the state contract to provide non-emergency transportation to Medicaid patients -- to stop subcontracting with Journey to provide transportation to Kajsiab House.

Kajsiab House clients did not know about the new transportation provider, Richwood Transport of Middleton, until drivers arrived at their doors in February. Many clients would not accept rides from the drivers, who unlike the Journey drivers did not speak Hmong.

Since then, Journey has continued to provide transportation without reimbursement from Medicaid, something Brady has said is not a long-term solution.

Her said the Hmong community would have welcomed the opportunity to work with Journey to find a solution that would keep Kajsiab House open, particularly since many Hmong elders don't know what they will do without the center.

The Hmong Institute and Freedom Inc., a Madison organization that advocates for social justice, has started fundraising to keep the center open through the end of the year. Their goal is to raise $150,000, which would cover basic expenses such as rent, transportation, minimal staffing and case management. Volunteers for other services and staffing would also be needed to keep it open, Her said.

Their hope is that in 2019, Kajsiab House can become its own nonprofit and contract with Dane County for culturally sensitive services for Hmong people.

Kajsiab House not only provides mental health care and services including help applying for citizenship and locating housing, it also provides a safe and welcoming community space where clients can speak Hmong with one another, cook and eat familiar foods and socialize, Her said.

Plia Thao, who said she is 98 or 99 years old, said the Hmong community's children are worried about their parents and their mental health.

"They all established Kajsiab House so we could come together and be stress free," Thao said.

Brady said clients of Kajsiab House will still be able to see mental health care providers through other clinics or locations, which she acknowledged is a difficult change for some.

Journey will also continue searching for a new centralized location for Hmong clients, although it may not look like or function exactly as Kajsiab House does.

"We were not just closing Kajsiab House and walking away," Brady said.

Her said the Hmong Institute will continue to advocate for Kajsiab House to remain as it is and where it is because "bouncing people around," particularly the elderly, can be detrimental to mental health.

"We need to keep these doors open so they know what the next day holds for them," Her said.

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(c)2018 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

Visit The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) at www.wisconsinstatejournal.com

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