Poverty can take a toll on health in ways that medical professionals, alone, cannot solve. The NYTimes reported on situations when poverty makes you sick, and a lawyer might be the cure.
"Being poor can make you sick. Where you work, the air you breathe, the state of your housing, what you eat, your levels of stress and your vulnerability to crime, injury and discrimination all affect your health. These social determinants of health lie outside the reach of doctors and nurses."
Because these social determinants of health lie outside of the reach of doctors and nurses, medical-legal partnerships have emerged. "Clinics that have medical-legal partnerships approach health differently than others. When doctors have no options for helping patients with the social determinants of health, they tend not to ask about them. With a medical-legal partnership, they do. At Cincinnati Children’s, [for example] each patient’s family is asked: Do you have housing problems? Problems getting your benefits? Are you depressed? Are you unsafe in your relationship? Would you like to speak to a lawyer or social worker about any of these things?" And there are attorneys and paralegals on site in the primary care center five days a week to assist with these issues.
How can lawyers help cure sickness? The article gives the following example:
"By early summer 2010, the temperature had already reached 100 degrees in Cincinnati. At Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, doctors were urging the families of children with asthma to use air-conditioning. One mother handed a piece of paper to her doctor: The child’s room did have a window unit, and she was using it. But then the landlord responded — he apparently didn’t want to pay the electric bills. Use that air-conditioner, the letter said, and you will be evicted.
A concerned doctor might have tried to call the landlord to fight the notice. Or, she might have handed the letter over to a social worker. But Cincinnati Children’s had something better — it had lawyers. In 2008, the hospital and the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati set up a medical-legal partnership, the Cincinnati Child Health-Law Partnership or Child HeLP.
Child HeLP sued on behalf of one severely disabled boy with a tracheotomy whose health depended on air-conditioning. The repairs were done in a few weeks."
The good news is that medical-legal partnerships are on the rise. "There were few medical-legal partnerships until about five or 10 years ago, but now 231 health care institutions have them, according to the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership."