By Terretta Jones, HeLP Clinic Spring 2017 Intern
Georgia State University College of Law offers a Health Law Partnership (HeLP) Legal Services Clinic. This program allows for the law students at Georgia State to collaborate with medical students at Emory University School of Medicine and Morehouse School of Medicine on cases involving denials and terminations of Social Security benefits for children who suffer from disabilities and/or live in substandard housing conditions. The HeLP Clinic also handles cases involving education as well as other services.
It was very clear when I first started working in the HeLP Clinic why professional collaboration is so important. My partner and I were given a case concerning a child born with a rare medical condition. Neither my partner nor I had a background in medicine, so it could have been very easy to get lost in the hundreds of pages of medical records. To fully understand the child’s condition so that we could do our jobs of advocating for the family, we needed the expertise of the medical students.
It was very helpful to have a medical student available to review the medical records, explain the condition, and answer any questions we had. Using their medical knowledge, the students were able to explain why the child may or may not be able to meet certain criteria necessary to receive specific benefits. The meetings with the medical students helped my partner and I narrow our focus so that we could tailor the legal approach.
Not only are we able to collaborate with medical students, we also have the benefit of having social work students available to help with our cases. Like the medical students, the social work students bring their own expertise. They are able to offer their knowledge of human behavior, and how economic and societal conditions affect individuals. The social workers are helpful in finding programs and resources to aid families.
The medical-legal collaboration allows for us to meet a client’s needs expediently. The time that it would take for the law students to research specific health conditions, medications, and alternative treatments are drastically reduced. It also prevents us law students from going down rabbit holes. This in turn, allows the Clinic to take more cases and help more families.
Not only have I seen first-hand how beneficial the HeLP Clinic is to the community, studies also show that medical-legal partnerships, as a whole help, communities. Specifically in 2015, medical-legal partnerships helped more than 75,000 patients resolve legal issues that were impeding their health, trained nearly 15,000 healthcare providers to better understand and screen patients for social determinants of health, and engaged in hundreds of projects designed to improve how clinics and policies address health-harming social conditions for entire communities.
It has been my pleasure to serve in the HeLP Clinic. Using an interdisciplinary team approach, we are able to help our community with legal issues pertaining to their health. This collaboration allows for help being available to a larger population, which helps to improve population health all around.