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At this county health center, a lawyer is just what the doctor ordered

Emily Alpert Reyes, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

LOS ANGELES — Maria Guadalupe Reyes was worried about the urgent notice that had arrived, saying that her landlord was seeking to evict her from the house she rents.

So she went straight to the usual place: the Martin Luther King Jr. Outpatient Center.

There, the 72-year-old handed the document over to paralegal Alejandra Patlán — a familiar face with pink hair and an unflappable manner — and waited outside the little room on the second floor for her turn with the attorney.

The glassy center on 120th Street in Willowbrook, where patients typically stop in to see doctors and get hearing tests, vaccinations and other routine care, might seem like an odd place to seek legal advice.

But the L.A. County Department of Health Services, which runs this and other medical centers across the county, has offered free help from attorneys as an unconventional way to meet the broader needs of its patients.

It now has nine clinics with a lawyer embedded on-site through a program called the Medical Legal Community Partnership. Patients can also get legal help by phone or through online referrals.

 

At the MLK Jr. Outpatient Center, a team from the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles meets with patients on-site on Tuesdays and takes phone calls during the week, fielding a grab bag of questions about immigration matters, health insurance, government benefits, shoddy housing and other issues.

When Reyes stepped inside the little room on the second floor, she clasped her hands in her lap and listened as Patlán relayed details from attorney Sheyda Joolharzadeh about the pressing deadline to respond. Before Reyes got her eviction notice, the team had already written a letter to her landlord, warning that it was illegal not to accept her rent.

"We have a plan to help you out, OK?" Patlán told her in Spanish. "We're going to go step by step."

Another woman stopped in after being attacked on the bus. Patlán talked to her about a possible visa for crime victims, which she cautioned was in high demand. And another patient wanted help with an application for disability benefits. She had spotted the signs advertising free help while she was stopping at the outpatient center for a shot.

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