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Posted on: December 18, 2023

State DHS secretary-designee visits Kenosha County Job Center

Photo of people talking during tour

When it came to getting a firsthand view of human services agencies working collaboratively to serve the people, Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Kirsten Johnson needed to look no further than her hometown. 

Johnson, a Kenosha native, toured the Kenosha County Job Center on Monday, meeting with county officials and hearing the details of several programs that have seen success locally. 

“It’s very clear that Kenosha has been working together for a long time,” Johnson said, following a rundown of ways in which various offices within human services come together to provide for a one-stop shop for clients. 

Human Services Director John Jansen said there is a long history of collaboration, dating back to when what were several separate departments consolidated under one Human Services Department in the 1990s. 

“We have a large umbrella that has everybody underneath it,” Jansen said. 

One of the operations under that umbrella is Kenosha County Public Health and its laboratory, where Johnson and others on the tour saw clinical screening that was purchased recently with opioid settlement funds. 

Another function is the Aging and Disability Resource Center, where the group toured the loan closet — operated in a contract with Kenosha Area Family and Aging Services Inc. — which offers the use of specialized medical equipment and supplies to those who need it. Most of this equipment comes in the form of donations from the public, noted county Division of Aging, Disability and Behavioral Health Servies Director Kari Foss. 

“It is the community helping the community,” Foss said. 

Johnson also heard about the county’s relatively new contract with Lake Behavioral Hospital in Waukegan, Ill., Wisconsin's first out-of-state reception facility for Chapter 51 mental health detentions. This, Foss said, provides a cost-effective alternative to detentions at the state’s Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh, and it also keeps patients closer to their family supports in Kenosha County. 

Other topics covered in the tour included a look at the Kenosha Overdose Response Initiative and the Families First and Long-Term Support programs in the Division of Children and Family Services. 

Angie Moran, human service area coordinator for the state Department of Health Services’ Southeast Region, said Kenosha County has made one front door for people seeking services, with divisions that communicate clients’ needs among each other as needed. 

“It’s a unique way of doing business,” Moran said. “And I do always say, ‘Come to Kenosha. It truly is one front door.’” 

Johnson, a Bradford High School graduate, was the commissioner of health for the City of Milwaukee Health Department and director/health officer for Ozaukee County and the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department before Gov. Tony Evers appointed her secretary of the state Department of Health Services in February. 

Johnson said she’s struck by how Kenosha County’s human services functions work together, that “there’s no wrong door” for people accessing services here.  

“You have a lot to be proud of in Kenosha,” she said. 

Others on Monday’s tour included state Reps. Tip McGuire and Amanda Nedweski, and County Executive Samantha Kerkman, who told Johnson of the county’s ongoing work on a new Human Services building in the Sun Plaza shopping center at 3500 52nd St. 

“That will bring all of these services into the heart of the community, into to the center of some of our most challenged neighborhoods,” Kerkman said. “We look forward to further enhancing our services as we make that move in 2025.” 

More information about the Kenosha County Department of Human Services and its various functions is available at kenoshacounty.org/150/Human-Services.