National Public Health Week and Medical-Legal Partnerships

This week, April 2-8, is National Public Health Week. Health care is obviously a major issue nationwide, and many overlapping issues exist between a person’s health, legal rights, and economic status. One approach to addressing these overlapping issues is a medical-legal partnership. In this kind of partnership, a medical provider refers patients to a partner legal services provider for legal help. In the classic example of a medical legal partnership case, a health care provider learns that a low-income patient’s respiratory disease is likely caused or exacerbated by mold in her apartment. If the landlord has refused to remediate the mold, the health care provider refers the patient to a partner legal services provider who helps the patient-client assert her rights under existing laws to a mold-free home. Other examples of people who can benefit from a medical-legal partnership include patients who need help appealing from the denial of SNAP benefits so they can provide adequate nutrition for their families, and domestic violence victims who need civil legal assistance to ensure they will be safe and financially secure in breaking free from an abusive situation. Rather than simply treating a medical condition, a medical-legal partnership helps the patient-client also address root issues behind the medical condition, become healthier, and reduce or avoid further associated financial costs.

MLSA is currently involved in a Medical Legal Partnership with RiverStone Health in Billings. Through this partnership, an MLSA staff attorney and an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow regularly go to RiverStone Health to serve patients referred by medical providers, social workers and other employees. As part of her project, the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow is researching and exploring ways to strengthen and improve this partnership and expand the model in other Montana communities. MLSA greatly appreciates its partnership with RiverStone Health and is glad of this opportunity to recognize this special relationship during National Public Health Week.

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