West Reading, PA. – Reading Hospital and MidPenn Legal Services have joined forces to improve patients’ health in a way that reaches beyond the clinical setting into another important arena: legal services.
Be Well Berks, an initiative of the Community Wellness Department of Reading Hospital, has partnered with MidPenn Legal Services to create the Be Well Berks Medical Legal Partnership (MLP) program. Funded by the Be Well Berks Grant Program, the MLP provides free civil-legal advice and representation to low-income patients facing health-harming legal needs.
“We have patients that experience tremendous health issues resulting from challenges such as not having enough food, living in dangerous housing conditions and sometimes fearing retaliatory evictions” said Desha Dickson, Reading Hospital Associate Vice President for Community Wellness. “The Be Well Berks Medical Legal Partnership Program integrates legal assistance as a vital component of patient care, and it is improving patients’ health and lives.”
According to the National Center for Medical Legal Partnership, when legal expertise and services are used to address social needs, people with chronic illnesses are admitted to the hospital less frequently, take their medication as prescribed, report less stress, and experience improvements in mental health, are more likely to use preventative healthcare, and clinical services more frequently reimbursed by public and private payers.
Since it began in December 2018, the Be Well Berks Medical Legal Partnership Program has received 193 referrals. Of those 193 referrals, 126 have been completed. The MLP addresses legal issues in the areas of income stability (such as income support, food insecurity, disability income and insurance) and housing stability (such as evictions, utility shut-off, poor conditions, foreclosures, lead paint and Section 8 terminations).
Social Determinant of Health screenings are conducted at several Reading Hospital sites – the Emergency Department, Children’s Health Center, Women’s Health Center, Center for Public Health, Center for Mental Health, Family Health Care Center, A4 Specialty Clinic,13 Tower Health Medical Group ambulatory sites and four Berks Community Health Center locations. In addition to legal issues, the screenings are used to identify housing, utilities, transportation, food and personal safety needs.
“The emphasis is on prevention,” said Molly Sanders, Esq., MidPenn Managing Attorney of the Be Well Berks Medical Legal Partnership Program. “Our goal is to address legal needs before they result in legal or medical emergencies. As a result, we’re already seeing an improvement in the health and well-being of our clients across Berks County.”