CHARLESTON -– To help low-income West Virginians overcome barriers to good health, Legal Aid of West Virginia and FamilyCare Health Centers, a federally qualified health center, have partnered to form West Virginia's first medical-legal partnership.

Founded by Dr. Barry Zuckerman at the Boston Medical Center, medical-legal partnerships integrate legal services into the health care setting to help low-income patients navigate the complex legal systems that often hold solutions to social, economic, and environmental determinants of health. For example, when a patient is entitled to obtain Supplemental Security Income and cannot pay for his medication without it, lawyers and doctors can effectively work together to help address the patient's needs.

"It was a perfect partnership opportunity for Legal Aid of West Virginia," said Adrienne Worthy, executive director of Legal Aid of West Virginia. "Medical-legal partnerships are emerging across the country, with over 200 hospitals and health centers involved in partnerships."

Medical-legal partnerships have found support from The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Medicine Practitioners, and the American Bar Association.

The Medical-Legal Partnership between Legal Aid of West Virginia and FamilyCare is West Virginia's first.

As of November, a Legal Aid of West Virginia attorney is working closely with medical providers in FamilyCare Health Centers on the West Side of Charleston and in Madison in Boone County. The attorney is on-site in the health centers a few days a week to provide advice to patients. The attorney engages in direct legal representation for low-income patients and provides education and training to medical providers, to better enable them to identify legal issues that may be impacting the health and safety of their patients.

"There are so many factors that influence health outside of the medical office," FamilyCare CEO Martha Carter said. "We are happy to be able to help our patients address some of these issues through our partnership with Legal Aid of West Virginia."

Through the Medical-Legal Partnership, Legal Aid of West Virginia and FamilyCare are working to effectively meet the basic needs for food, housing, safety, and health care of low-income West Virginians. Given the recent attention to health care reform and the search for solutions, this partnership offers alternatives to low-income clients that had not been available previously, empowering them to overcome barriers to good health.

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