October 20, 2017

St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, Legal Aid partner to improve health of addiction, psychiatric patients

St. Vincent Charity Medical Center and The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland have launched a medical legal partnership (MLP), providing free, on-site services to resolve civil legal issues that impact the overall health of addiction and psychiatric patients. St. Vincent Charity’s MLP program is the first of its kind in Ohio to focus solely on the needs of those in treatment for behavioral health and addiction diseases. (Also read more about the partnership and similar MLP partnerships in Crain’s Cleveland Business.)

“At St. Vincent Charity, we are committed to not only treating the current symptoms that bring patients into our hospital, but working to improve their long-term overall health and quality of life,” said Dr. David Perse, president and CEO of St. Vincent Charity. “This MLP provides an integrated approach to address the legal barriers that negatively impact a person’s health so we can improve the well-being of those in our community.”

Through a two-year $260,000 grant from the Jones Day Foundation, a full-time Legal Aid attorney will partner with St. Vincent Charity clinicians, case workers, patient navigators and other care givers to both prevent and remedy the many health-harming factors that have their roots in legal problems. In the first year alone, it is estimated that the program will assist 175 patients and their family members through 75 legal cases.

“Due to lower incomes and the stigma attached to their disease, so many of our patients face health disparities that create an ongoing cycle of emergent health care needs and hospital stays. Our patients truly suffer from this downward social drift,” said Dr. Albana Dreshaj, medical director, St. Vincent Charity Psychiatric Emergency Department. “Many don’t know there is help available in the community or where to go to find it. The MLP places an attorney right here in the hospital to work side by side with caregivers and social workers to help our patients break down these barriers.”

To implement the program, Legal Aid conducted thorough training with hospital care givers to effectively screen and identify patients with complicating legal issues and refer them to the Legal Aid attorney, Michael Russell, for assistance. Russell will work two days a week on-site at the hospital to personally meet with patients, and the balance of time working on cases with Legal Aid colleagues to utilize all Legal Aid’s resources to help resolve issues on patients’ behalf.     

“Legal Aid is focused on being available where and when low-income and vulnerable people need help with a legal issue,” said Melanie Shakarian, Esq., spokesperson for Legal Aid.  “Being embedded at St. Vincent Charity will help patients with legal issues related to housing, unsafe family dynamics, with environmental threats, or job and food insecurity. These people need legal counsel, but without an attorney, health outcomes will be adversely affected.”

An estimated 40 percent of the nearly 4,000 patients—nearly 72 percent of which are low income—treated at St. Vincent Charity’s geriatric and adult psychiatric units are in need of immediate legal help to remove barriers that stand in the way of improved health. In addition, nearly 60 percent of those patients are diagnosed with co-occurring substance abuse.

The Legal Service Corporation, based in Washington D.C., documents the vast majority of low-income individuals in the United States have 2 to 3 unmet civil legal needs that create barriers to healthy eating, healthy housing, employment and safety. Studies of other MLP’s across the country demonstrate a reduction in the frequency of hospital admissions for those with chronic diseases, improved compliance by patients related to prescribed medications, decreased patient stress and reduced costs of health care services.

As part of St. Vincent’s MLP, $40,000 of the two-year grant is designated for research conducted by Cleveland State’s Center for Behavioral Health Sciences, to measure program and patient outcomes.

St. Vincent Charity Medical Center is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

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