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RICHER: A Medical-Legal Community Partnership

Responsive, Intersectoral, Children’s Health, Education and Research (RICHER) representatives recently met with Dr. Barry Zuckerman of Boston Medical Center to talk about the Medical-Legal Community Partnership (MLCP), based in the Downtown Eastside. Together, we explored the potential to address a wide range of legal issues affecting low-income people. Currently, there are over 250 medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) in the US and several in Canada, including the RICHER MLCP and the Legal Services Society’s own Fir Square initiative.

Dr. Zuckerman is an MLP leader in the United States. He talked about the benefits of the model in a recent issue of Pediatrics:

The health system is effective in diagnosing and treating a patient with asthma and maybe with good social work or visiting nurse staff, etc., can have an impact on asthma triggers in the home. The connection to legal aid programs resulted in identification of poor quality housing in a group of buildings owned by 1 firm. Health care teams would be unlikely to identify the owner of a building or see the pattern of risk linked to other buildings owned by the owner. Not only was treatment of the affected index patients addressed, but 11 of the 19 other buildings received significant repairs that improved the housing quality and likely (but not proven) reduced the risk for asthma and other housing-related illnesses. (Medicine and Law: New Opportunities to Close the Disparity Gap,  Pediatrics 2012; 130:5 943 – 944)

We talked about civil, family, and child protection issues, barriers to accessing legal help, and possible solutions. One of the challenges is to provide the right service, at the right time, in the right place; to put support in the path of the client. We discussed the role of place-based services, triage models to identify legal issues, and the importance of sharing knowledge.

LSS supports the RICHER MLCP through training on legal resources and community engagement. In December, we organized an information session for community agencies and service providers that was very well received. We are planning a follow-up later this year so that agencies can continue the conversation with providers. We continue to be active at the RICHER table.

–John Simpson, Manager Community and Publishing Services

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