The Montana Legal Services Association was recently awarded a grant from the US Administration for Children and Families Medical-Legal Partnerships Plus demonstration program to support MLSA’s Montana Health Justice Partnership, a medical legal partnership that aims to connect low income patients who are experiencing health-harming legal problems (such as unsafe housing, domestic violence, or barriers preventing access to public benefits needed to pay for healthcare or nutritional support) with the legal expertise of a civil legal aid attorney at MLSA.
Addressing these legal problems helps improve patient health because it addresses the root cause of many health issues and helps to reduce patient stress. Research indicates that 60% of health is determined by social and environmental factors, with many health problems created or exacerbated when the services, benefits, and laws that protect social and environmental needs are wrongfully denied, under-enforced, or not enforced at all. Studies have shown that access to legal services supports patients’ health by improving access to food, income supports, housing, and safety, while also reducing stress.
The Montana Health Justice Partnership includes a partnership with the Montana Consortium of Urban Indian Health, Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, the Montana Primary Care Association, and numerous Community Health Centers located throughout the state. The $214,000 grant will allow MLSA to expand the size and capacity of its network to increase the number of families served, enhance its ability to coordinate social services, and expand its services to Montana’s geographically isolated residents. The new grant funds will also allow MLSA to connect with Native American clients living in urban areas throughout Montana.
Active since 2015, the Montana Health Justice Partnership has resulted in thousands of patients at community health centers and other partner organizations being screened for potential civil legal problems, with hundreds of patients ultimately receiving legal assistance. The project has proven to be critical to MLSA’s efforts to connect with rural Montanans, who otherwise may struggle to access legal help when they need it.