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Article posted: 7/30/2013 6:21 PM

LAOE will use money to help people in Kane, Winnebago counties

By Elena Ferrarin

The Lao American Organization of Elgin has received two grants, one to conduct mental health outreach, the other to advise the community about the Affordable Care Act.

"Project Sipsong," from the Lao word for "12" to symbolize the 12 months of the year, is a one-year project focusing on educating people about mental health and its connection to physical health, said May Saengpraseuth, women and health services program director for LAOE.

The $8,500 grant from the Asian Giving Circle, an initiative of the Chicago Community Trust, will fund an intern and training of bilingual "community health workers" who will go into the community and educate others, Saengpraseuth said.

For example, older refugees who came to the United States in the 1970s might suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, while younger generations might have issues stemming from being torn between acculturation and having foreign-born parents, she said.

"In most Asian populations, in general, there's a lot of stigma around mental issues and behavioral health as a whole," said Edwin Chandrasekar, executive director of the Chicago-based Asian Health Coalition, which will assist LAOE in the project.

LAOE will also be working to inform Kane County's Laotian community about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as part of a $115,000 grant received by the Coalition, which was among 44 community organizations in Illinois that were awarded a total of $27 million in federal funds for this purpose.

Starting Jan. 1, the uninsured will be required to pay a penalty if they don't have health insurance, Chandrasekar said.

Illinois has about 1.2 million uninsured residents. According to data on illinois.gov, about 500,000 to 800,000 residents will be covered under the restructured Medicaid program, while another 200,000 to 300,000 will select coverage by commercial insurers through a new Illinois Health Benefits Marketplace.

The goal of the grant is to conduct outreach and education, and facilitate enrollment in the Marketplace beginning Oct. 1, Chandrasekar said. Saengpraseuth and several other bilingual individuals will serve as Affordable Care Act counselors for Laotian residents of Kane and Winnebago counties.

"(LAOE) had two town hall meetings, in December and May, to discuss the Affordable Care Act. For the most part, most people didn't know about it," Saengpraseuth said.

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