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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

Nearly a third of cases in the L.A. County programs are tied to issues with public benefits, followed by concerns about immigration, housing issues, and health coverage. More than 6,000 people have been referred to the program since it started three years ago. Some hear about it from doctors. Others learn from community groups. And some spot it at the clinic.

"We're now embedded" on-site, said supervising attorney Gerson Sorto, who oversees the Medical Legal Community Partnership program with Neighborhood Legal Services of L.A. County. "There's a universe of people that would not be able to seek and access legal help that — because of this setup — are able to."

Rothman said it has also shifted relationships between physicians and patients. It used to be that "you just wouldn't ask patients about certain things … because it was so limited what you could do," Rothman said. "It's hard to have people open up about a level of need, and then say, 'I can't do anything to help you with that.'"

Attorneys have also helped advise physicians make sure that they provide eligible patients the right paperwork to secure benefits to which they are entitled. Rothman said she was still haunted by a case earlier in her career, in which she tried to write a letter to help a single mother with lupus qualify for disability benefits. The woman got turned down.

 

Rothman later realized her letter hadn't addressed the specific criteria needed by the government agency. Legal issues "are the one thing you're super unprepared to deal with when you come out of medical school," she said.

Weeks after she headed to the MLK Outpatient Center with her eviction paperwork, Reyes had a court hearing. Joolharzadeh said Legal Aid Foundation attorneys successfully argued that the eviction case should be rejected because of pandemic restrictions on evictions.

For now, the attorney said, the 72-year-old is staying in her home.

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