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Amherst’s Cambodian outreach worker laid off

Cambodian residents who have difficulty accessing health services, particularly those who are elderly and don’t speak English, are losing a longtime advocate.

With federal funding for the position expiring Oct. 1, the outreach worker position, held by Lauren Moeun since 1998, ended last month.

Health Director Julie Federman said this comes as a blow, particularly for Cambodian elders, many of whom came to Amherst as refugees during and after the reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.

Many arrived after not having the opportunity to learn to read in their native Khmer language, Federman said, and are now affected by illnesses like diabetes and cardiac problems, as well as other physical and emotional scars from their experience.

“To a one of them they don’t speak English, they only speak Khmer,” Federman said.

With Moeun’s assistance, about 200 Cambodians in the community received help in securing medical attention, paying bills and learning English.

“The town feels very committed to her for the work she has done,” Federman said. “She’s been an exemplary employee.”

Outreach to the Cambodian population initially began through the HMO Kaiser Permanente, but was later built into the municipal budget, Federman said. That changed in 2010, when the town eliminated the salary from the budget, agreeing to pay just the benefits. The salary has since been paid through Khmer Health Advocates of Hartford, Conn.

Moeun has worked under the auspices of the health department, but her office is in the adjacent Senior Center because of the population she typically assists.

Knowing that federal funding could expire, Moeun began mentoring an intern during the summer who is providing 12 hours per week of service to Cambodian elders. But Federman said this is just a stopgap measure.

The town is exploring all avenues for bringing Moeun back, Town Manager John Musante said.

“Despite really good efforts ... they haven’t panned out,” he said.

Federman said Khmer Health is hopeful the federal funding will be restored.

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