Putting Health Back in Healthcare

Putting Health Back in Healthcare

September 27, 2017

Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) and the Bethesda Family Medicine Clinic (Bethesda Clinic) are excited to announce a new health care-legal partnership to address the legal needs that present health equity barriers to patients. The partnership integrates legal services into the health care model, thus giving patients greater access to the legal help they may need.

As part of the partnership, SMRLS attorney Rebecca Dodson holds regular office hours at the clinic and serves as the primary legal contact with the clinic staff. Working with the clinic social worker and all clinic staff to ensure that resources are maximized, Ms. Dodson represents patients with health harming legal needs, including issues related to housing and public benefits, safety concerns, and health care eligibility.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled about the opportunity to provide legal help to patients at Bethesda,” Ms. Dodson says. “There’s a clear need for this service and it’s rewarding to fill that vacancy.”

Located near the heart of the Frogtown neighborhood in St. Paul, a large number of patients treated at Bethesda Clinic are low-income. Additionally, the clinic serves a large number of refugees from Southeast Asia, including Karen and Hmong. Due to these limitations, many of the patients have barriers to accessing the legal help they need. By having SMRLS staff on site at the clinic, patients not only are able to see a physician but also receive free legal referrals without making a separate visit to the SMRLS office located in downtown St. Paul.

“The great part about the partnership is that patients view Bethesda as a safe place to go,” SMRLS attorney Meghan Scully says. “Patients often are more comfortable talking to an attorney if they’re referred to us by a doctor.”

Bethesda hosts one of the University of Minnesota’s family medicine residency programs. Ms. Dodson regularly educates clinic staff, including residents, on how to address civil legal issues ranging from domestic violence, orders for protection, and housing discrimination. SMRLS and Bethesda hope that by interacting with a legal aid attorney during their residency, these new family medicine physicians will be better equipped to address the social and economic issues affecting their future patients’ health. In return, clinic staff educate Ms. Dodson and other SMRLS staff on health issues specific to refugee and immigrant populations and how best to work with clients with mental health diagnoses.

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Medical Resident Thuy Nguyen-Tran, MD; Katie Freeman, MD; Attorney Rebecca Dodson


Through this holistic approach, patients receive increased access to protections and resources that allow them to meet their basic needs, leading to the improvement in health and well-being of the patient population.

Ms. Scully emphasizes how this partnership serves patients beyond the constraints of a typical law office.

“Our partnership with Bethesda Clinic allows us to look at the overall wellbeing of our clients and not just their legal issues,” Ms. Scully says.

Since beginning in July, the partnership has already begun filling a growing need in the community. In its two months in operation, Ms. Dodson received 57 patient referrals, over half of whom had never contacted SMRLS.

The health care-legal partnership at Bethesda Clinic mirrors a similar SMRLS partnership titled Lawyers Advancing Wellness (LAW) at Open Doors Health Center in Mankato, MN. LAW, which began in 2016, received nearly 150 referrals in its first year of operation. With the success seen at Open Doors and Bethesda, SMRLS is eager to launch a health care-legal partnership at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul in October 2017.

“We’re excited to build on the success of the Bethesda and Open Doors partnerships,” Ms. Scully says. “Providing patients with accessible legal support and enabling medical staff to utilize these resources have proven to be essential in addressing health harming legal needs.”

The partnership between SMRLS and Bethesda would not be possible without the generous support of the Otto Bremer Foundation.

To learn more about the Bethesda Clinic, please visit their website. For questions about the health care-legal partnership at Bethesda Clinic, please contact Meghan Scully at Meghan.Scully@SMRLS.org.

Putting Health Back in Healthcare
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