Beginning in December 2018, Gulfcoast Legal Services is partnering with Community Health Centers of Pinellas, Bay Area Legal Services, and Stetson University College of Law to ensure the legal needs of low-income patients are met. Partnering qualified medical and legal professionals is an evidence-informed strategy that can successfully mitigate or resolve many stressful matters that have a significant impact on the health and well-being of the community.
Medical providers often come across non-medical issues that affect medical outcomes, also called ‘social determinants of health.’ For example, a child who is asthmatic cannot successfully and fully be treated if he lives in substandard housing. If the substandard housing is a result of negligence – a landlord refusing to get rid of mold in an apartment – a lawyer can help protect the residents’ rights to safe housing. But many low-income families cannot afford to hire an attorney. No amount of medical intervention will keep the asthma under control as long as external influences are causing it to re-occur. However, with the medical team working hand-in-hand with the legal team, the contributing factors can be addressed to allow the medical intervention to work.
With this partnership, GLS hopes to decrease patients’ exposure to toxic stress and improve their safety and stability, among other things. GLS attorneys will train CHCP medical staff on identifying social needs that may be remediated with legal assistance and will provide free civil legal services to clients referred by the medical staff. Additionally, the attorneys will supervise law school interns who will assist with case consultations with patients.
Over a three-year period under a generous grant from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, the medical legal partnership will impact at least 600 patients and their families.