The Salud Family Health Centers’ clinic is located in a suburb north of Denver. In addition to medical treatment, the clinic also offers a more unconventional resource for wellness: legal aid. Colorado is one of a handful of states that have given permission for Medicaid money to be used to sponsor legal help at medical clinics. The goal is to reduce levels of stress and keep families intact to promote long-term health and wellness.
This specific Colorado clinic has four lawyers on hand, as well as physicians, psychiatrists, and social workers. They spend a majority of their time helping patients with unemployment benefit claims and Social Security Disability Insurance denials, but they also offer help with immigration hearings.
There are currently 450 medical-legal partnerships across the US. Although only a few of them rely on Medicaid funding, they all operate under the premise that reducing stress-inducing challenges like unemployment, eviction, or custody battles reduces the risk of developing stress-related chronic illnesses like heart disease, obesity, and gastrointestinal issues. Many of these stressors have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
A study from the Colorado School of Public Health surveyed patients from 2015 to 2020 and found that linking medical and legal resources resulted in significant drops in stress levels, improved physical health, and fewer missed medical appointments.
Although some critics argue that Medicaid funding is already stretched too thin to be used for legal resources, securing funding to improve legal resources in the medical system would create a more holistic health and wellness system. To give a specific example, Salud’s chief medical officer explains to NPR a scenario in which a doctor can treat a child with asthma, but if that respiratory condition is caused by mold which a landlord refuses to address, a note from a lawyer can more effectively address the health issue at its source.