SMRLS attorneys visit Washington DC

September 26, 2019

On Thursday, September 19, 2019, Mankato staff from Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) and Open Door Health Center in Mankato led a workshop discussing SMRLS' Lawyers Advancing Wellness (LAW) program at the National Center for Medical Legal Partnership (NCMLP) in Washington D.C. Titled "Opening Doors in Rural Communities to Those Who Are Homeless, In Addiction Recovery, Survivors of Domestic Violence and Isolated in Rural Communities", the presentation explained the partnership’s community impact and expanded the understanding of this program to a greater national audience.

The workshop was led by a SMRLS LAW staff attorney and volunteer attorney coordinator, healthcare providers from Open Door Health Center (Open Door) in Mankato, and a volunteer attorney. More than 50 people attended the presentation in D.C. Attendees learned how SMRLS collaborates with Open Door to address legal problems impacting individual patient and community health, including the social risk factors associated with homelessness, recovering from addiction, surviving domestic violence, and coping with rural isolation.

“Workshop participants were interested in the project’s use of an onsite attorney at Open Door and legal checkup clinics utilizing volunteer attorneys to target underserved populations,” SMRLS Southwest Region Senior Leadership Attorney Larry Nicol said. “The team shared lessons learned in how we targeted those in rural areas who are homeless, in addiction recovery, survivors of domestic violence, and isolated.”

SMRLS’ LAW program is a healthcare-legal partnership (HLP) based at Open Door in Mankato. In this program, attorneys from SMRLS are paired with medical professionals at Open Door to identify their patients’ health harming legal needs through a holistic approach. Common legal needs include issues related to unsafe housing, domestic abuse, public benefits, and more. Volunteer attorneys also staff Legal Checkup Clinics at the Center, homeless drop-in centers, an inpatient addiction treatment center, and other remote locations. Additionally, a community health worker attends these clinics to help participants identify and connect with community resources.

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Healthcare-legal partnerships are an innovative and relatively new approach to treating patients. Importantly, they break down the barriers preventing patients from living a healthy life. The goals of the LAW HLP are to integrate legal services into healthcare, breakdown geographic barriers preventing access for patients who need legal help, and to create a safe environment for patients on their journey to recovery.

To learn more about the LAW program, please contact Larry Nicol at lawrence.nicol@smrls.org.

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