Medical-legal partnerships bring lawyers and paralegals to health care teams to improve the health and well-being of underserved populations. A new piece in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology discusses the particular role these partnerships play in treating behavioral health.
By Kristen Weir
“When Jack Tsai, PhD, treats veterans at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, they often have problems that go beyond the scope of his work as a psychologist. Many have post-traumatic stress disorder or cognitive disabilities and are fighting for disability benefits. Others are embroiled in housing disputes, are facing eviction or have already become homeless.
While psychologists can treat their mental health concerns, these veterans need legal help, too. ‘A lot of these patients have never had anyone advocate for them in court,’ says Tsai, who has dual appointments at the VA and the Yale School of Medicine.
Enter the medical-legal partnership, or MLP, a model that embeds lawyers and paralegals into health-care teams to detect, address and prevent social conditions that harm health. Those legal experts typically work on-site in health-care settings, either part time or full time, where they can access patients’ medical records and even sit in on clinical meetings. The legal services are offered at no charge to the patient. Programs are typically funded through a combination of philanthropy, law schools and civil legal aid agencies, with a handful of contributions from health-care partners.
Psychologists are obvious candidates for getting involved in MLPs, Tsai says. They already have long-term relationships with their clients and understand how their legal problems might be interfering with their mental health and well-being. Plus, psychologists are often accustomed to working on interdisciplinary teams.”