Journey Mental Health Center will discontinue funding Kajsiab House, a healing center for the local Hmong community, on Sept. 28 because of budgeting issues, leaving patients struggling to find access to culturally-competent mental health services.

Kajsiab (pronounced “ga shee’ah”) means the relief of stress and tension, according to the Journey website. Kajsiab House is a mental health facility in Madison for Hmong-Americans, particularly Hmong elders.

Hmong Institute board president Mai Zong Vue was upset with the timeline of the Kasjiab House closure.

“Like the elders, I’m very angry and very disappointed at how the situation was handled,” Zong Vue said. “Giving 30 days for a community to put something together — it’s impossible.”

Kajsiab House provides services for the 5,000 Hmong-Americans living in Dane County — more than 300 of whom are war veterans or widows of veterans, according to the Journey website. A high percentage of them live with mental health problems like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain caused by war experiences.

Lynn Brady, Journey Mental Health president and CEO, said they are closing the program because of a lack of sustainable funding. By the end of the year, Kajsiab House will have a deficit of about $500,000, Brady said.

“We are working hard and we’ll make sure that every person receiving services at Kajsiab House can continue receiving services,” Brady said. “We are not just closing down and walking away.”

In response to Journey’s decision to cut the program, the Hmong Institute organized a public forum in collaboration with organizations like the University of Wisconsin’s Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Voices.

Katie Chong, a representative of UW APIDA Voices, was part of the fundraising committee at the public forum and pitched ideas to it. She said she was disappointed Brady didn’t show up to the forum, which brainstormed ways to raise money to fund Kajsiab House for the remainder of the year.

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The Friends of Kajsiab House, a coalition of Hmong elders, community members and service providers, set up a GoFundMe to ensure there are no gaps in services while Kajsiab patients transition to other providers. Their goal is to raise $150,000 to maintain Kajsiab House for the next three months.

“I understand that [Journey], as an agency, is experiencing budget issues — I understand that and I respect that,” Vue said. “My only hard feeling is that this is a communal project and it should’ve been brought to the community’s attention — we could help them.”

Journey is working with the public to make accommodations for Kajsiab House patients, Brady said. She said she wanted to dispel any rumors about Journey completely cutting services to the Hmong community.

Vue said that while Journey is not required to consult with the Hmong community, it would have made for a much stronger partnership if they had, citing how many community organizations have pledged support to an independently-run Kajsiab House — including UW Health.

“Kajsiab House has been a home that was able to help [patients] manage their PTSD and help them manage their daily life,” Vue said.

Vue said the anger and frustration caused by Journey’s decision has triggered the PTSD of many Kajsiab House patients.

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According to Chong, fighting in the Vietnam War, surviving genocide and starting a new life in the U.S. are some of the reasons why Hmong elders like her own father experience mental health issues.

“When I heard that they were closing down services for people like my dad, it hurt me personally,” Chong said. “Cambodians, Hmong, Vietnamese-Americans — we’re all children of refugees of the colonialism that happened in Vietnam during the Cold War.”

Brady said Journey service providers are aware of the cultural needs of the Hmong people. If needed, patients can receive services in Hmong from staff with an understanding of Hmong culture.

While patients have the opportunity to transition to another mental health program at Journey, both Chong and Vue raised concerns the services won’t be culturally competent to Hmong elders. Vue said that is why Kajsiab was started 18 years ago.

Chong added that closing Kajsiab House would erase part of her history by endangering the elders, but it would also deny a minority group of culturally competent mental health services in the future too.

Kajsiab House is accepting funds to maintain operation for the rest of the year. They are planning a launch day of the new independent community program on Sept. 28 — the same day Journey will stop overseeing the program.

“The elders are our history, they show us our traditions and they remind us and connect us to the homeland,” Chong said. “But the reality is a lot of Hmong-Americans and Cambodian-Americans that are our age struggle with mental health issues because of generational trauma.”