Dane County’s leading provider of mental health services for the poor says the sudden cancellation of a transit contract means it is forced to end a program currently serving some 150 Hmong clients — many of them former refugees and elderly veterans who fought on the United States’ side during the Vietnam War.
Journey Mental Health Center said it will shut down the Kajsiab House program on Sept. 28. The 18-year-old program located on Madison’s North Side provides help with housing and insurance, social activities, medication consultations and other services.
“It’s a safe place for them,” said Journey president and CEO Lynn Brady. “Many of them have intense anxiety and other mental health issues.”
Brady said that in February, Missouri-based MTM Inc. — which holds the state contract to provide non-emergency transportation to Medicaid patients — stopped subcontracting with Journey to transport clients to Kajsiab House with the agency’s vans and Hmong-speaking, ethnically Hmong drivers.
MTM later informed the agency that it was contracting with Middleton-based Richwood Transport to provide rides, Brady said, but many of Journey’s Hmong clients wouldn’t go with the company’s non-Hmong, non-Hmong-speaking drivers.
Brady said Journey has continued using its vans and four Hmong drivers to transport from 40 to 50 Hmong clients a day — without reimbursement from Medicaid — but it can’t afford to do that indefinitely.
The resulting drop-off in participation and associated reduction in Medicaid reimbursement for Kajsiab House services will not allow the program to continue, she said.
“They didn’t even tell us they were cancelling it,” said Brady, who only found out when some of their Kajsiab clients started calling to say their regular drivers weren’t showing up.
In a statement from MTM that it said had to be pre-screened by the state Department of Health Services, the company said Journey’s contract was not canceled but that “our contracts with transportation companies do not guarantee any level of trip volume.”
It said that earlier this year, it asked Journey “for information on costs for specific routes and trip opportunities for the population it serves” but did not receive a reply and “subsequently awarded the work to another reliable transportation provider.”
The company did not respond when asked whether Richwood was cheaper than Journey’s transportation or if it had given Journey notice of the switch.
Brady said Journey did respond to the company’s request by “asking for clarification about their request, and did not get a response from them.”
Richwood owner Nathan Hopwood said his company tried to transport clients for about two weeks, but only five or six out of approximately 40 people assigned for pick-up each day would take the rides in the company’s vans. He assumes Richwood got the contract to provide the rides because it offered a cheaper rate.
He said that once the company realized there was a language barrier with the clients, it brought in a majority of Hmong-speaking drivers.
Brady said in a statement that the end of the Kajsiab House program “will lead to the loss of jobs, as well as badly needed services for a very vulnerable population of people that supported our country during the war.”