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Community Legal Aid, Summa Health teaming up to address social factors affecting health

Community Legal Aid and Summa Health teaming up to address social factors affecting health
Posted at 4:42 PM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 18:35:23-04

AKRON, Ohio — Good health depends on much more than just medical treatment. Social factors also play a big role in health outcomes for many people. Community Legal Aid and Summa Family Medicine Center are teaming up to address those issues with a medical-legal partnership.

“We help a lot of people in Akron who really struggle with poverty and access to health care and transportation and food and safe housing,” said Dr. Shannon Perkins, the director of behavioral science at Summa Family Medicine Center.

Perkins said sometimes healthcare workers are presented with issues that aren’t medical.

“We've had a lot of situations over the years where our staff has discovered that we have a patient in a really unsafe situation, say they're about to be evicted from their home or they're living in a place that has cockroaches or mold,” Perkins said.

Perkins said in the healthcare field, there’s not much they can do to help them, but if gone unaddressed, those problems can have serious consequences.

“A person living in poverty is more likely to be diagnosed with a chronic illness, like diabetes. They're less likely to get control over that diabetes. So they're more likely to have long-term complications,” Perkins said.

That’s why the center is teaming up with Community Legal Aid for something called a medical-legal partnership.

It allows doctors to ask patients questions about things that may be affecting their health and then refer them to workers at Community Legal Aid who can help them come up with solutions.

The program is funded by a $50,000 grant from Summa Women’s Health Philanthropy Circle.

They've already helped about half a dozen families since the program started last month.

“One family was referred to us because the mom needed help with their unemployment,” said Marie Curry, a managing attorney at Community Legal Aid. “We provided her with counsel and advice about her application for unemployment. Then we also helped her avoid eviction by working with the housing authority to delay her rent deadline until her unemployment benefits were approved.”

Perkins said finding those solutions makes a big difference in the patient’s health.

“We find when you look at research on how medical-legal partnerships impact patients' health over the long term, what we see is significant improvement in indicators of chronic illness like diabetes or chronic lung disease,” Perkins said. “It actually physically impacts the control of their disease, as well as there's a lot of research that shows that mental health improves.”

Right now, the program is only open to patients at the Summa Family Medicine Center, but the hope is that its impact will spread much farther.

“I would hope at the end of the year, we've not only helped a group of people, but we've also identified where there are potentially some systemic problems in our community,” Curry said.

More information about Community Legal Aid can be found here.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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