A newly released study from the George Washington University Medical Center confirms what Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma and the OU-Tulsa Schusterman Clinic have known. Doctors, lawyers and social workers can team up help vulnerable Tulsans. This unusual collaboration targets the social problems that threaten the health and social well-being of vulnerable children.
While OU physicians focus on curing the medical ills of their young patients, Legal Aid attorney Adrienne Watt and the clinic’s two pediatric social workers take aim at the social problems that threaten the health and social well-being of these vulnerable children during their growing-up years and beyond.
Together they tackle tough problems that low-income parents need legal help to solve, from vermin-infested rentals to protective orders to a child’s problems at school. Watt is careful not to take any cases that the private bar might handle, and she files no injury lawsuits for monetary damages.
“We see this as a way of meeting environmental needs that can translate into physical and psychiatric problems,” said William A. Geffen, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics, who worked with Legal Aid of Tulsa to arrange for Watt’s three year assignment at the clinic.
“Adverse experiences produce stress in a child, and the health effects, whether acute or chronic, may show up years later as heart disease, diabetes, depression. People are at higher risk if they grew up in environments where there are problems.
Federal education programs also require expert navigation skills, and Watt often finds herself attending a school meeting between a parent and a teaching team. “We have children with special medical needs, and part of my job is to help parents advocate for the special education services they may be entitled to under federal law.”
Sometimes the child’s medical problem isn’t readily apparent to the school, and when the child misses enough class, the school brings a truancy case. “Once I get involved, I bring it to the school’s attention that the absences are medically related,” Watt said.
Watt’s involvement in such issues can calm rough waters, as it did recently when she assisted a parent whose developmentally disabled child was suspended for aggressive behavior. Acting as facilitator, she helped the school and parent agree to an educational plan that would help the child stay in school.
According to a new study from the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, each year, between 50 and 85 percent of health center patients - or between ten and seventeen million people - experience unmet legal needs, many of which negatively impact their health. This number is likely to increase given the profound changes in eligibility, plan enrollment, provider selection, and service delivery embodied in the newly enacted health reform law.
“Medical legal partnerships are an effective way to address patterns of unmet need,” said Peter Shin, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate research professor in the Department of Health Policy and a lead study author. “They will become increasingly important as health reform unfolds.”
Though the consequences of complex social problems and associated health disparities - such as substandard housing and environmental conditions - can be treated medically, their causes are social and are often more successfully remedied through legal, rather than medical channels.
Read the full report from George Washington University Medical Center at this link:
For more information about the Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma & OU Medical/Legal Partnership for Children at our website http://www.legalaidok.org/