New partnership links health, legal needs
The NH Medical-Legal Partnership has been formed by the Manchester Community Health Center and NH Legal Assistance in an effort to provide integrated legal and medical services for patients at the health center who need legal assistance.
Under the partnership, Vickie Brooks, a NHLA paralegal, is on site at the medical offices once a week to evaluate and deal with patients’ issues that might have legal solutions.
MCHC was one of six health centers in the country to be awarded expanded funding under the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s recently decision to add legal services as a fundable service for federally qualified community health centers.
For patients who are referred to the program, the legal services are free.
Ammonoosuc Community Health Services in New Hampshire’s North Country also received this expanded funding, and will revitalize a medical-legal partnership with NHLA that was closed when funding ended in 2011.
According to the organizations, evidence has shown a link between certain types of legal problems and health. For example, people who live in housing with mold or rodents, in clear violation of sanitary codes, are living in a physical environment that can lead to illness or make existing health conditions worse.
Recently, a MCHC provider referred a family with a broken heater to the attorneys at the medical-legal partnership, who contacted the landlord on their behalf. Immediately after speaking to the attorney, the landlord replaced the heater and discounted the family’s rent by the increased electric costs.
Blanca Arellano, a case manager at Child Health Services at MCHC, is a staff liaison for the partnership. She fields referrals from the medical team to identify patients who could benefit from the program.
The partnership also involves training staff to recognize legal barriers that stand in the way of improved health for their patients. “The program is helpful because families might not be comfortable advocating for legal assistance themselves,” Arellano said.