- Associated Press - Monday, September 25, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - A federally funded program is helping low-income patients in Springfield address non-medical issues with legal assistance.

The Southern Illinois University Medical-Legal Partnership involves the university’s Center for Family Medicine, the School of Medicine, the School of Law and the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. The partnership has helped patients in nearly 300 cases since it began in January 2016, the State Journal-Register reported .

The program provides free legal assistance to patients with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Assistance can deal with challenges such as divorce, landlord problems and qualifying for food stamps or Social Security disability benefits.

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University officials said helping patients improve their economics, safety and emotional well-being has proven to lead to better physical and mental health.

University doctors are learning to ask more about these issues in patients’ lives as part of the program, said Carolyn Pointer, a humanities instructor at the medical school. Pointer also works with medical students who learn the importance of paying attention to more than just patients’ physical pains by helping screen patients for the program.

She said doctors often won’t ask patients about non-medical issues unless they’re in touch with legal experts who are ready to provide assistance to patients.

“They only screen for problems they have answers for,” Pointer said. “In general, most of the doctors are very appreciative to have a resource for their patients.”

The program is funded with $215,000 in federal grant funds for last year and this year. Plans are in the works to request more federal funding to continue in 2018 and beyond.


Information from: The State Journal-Register, https://www.sj-r.com

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