Rural areas tend to have fewer resources to address social determinants of health, and distance can make access to those resources a challenge. A piece in the Rural Health Information Hub’s Rural Monitor explores the benefits of integrating lawyers into health care teams in rural settings, and features the program at the Northern Access Dental Center in Minnesota.
by Allee Mead
“Renee was desperate to find a way out of her abusive marriage. But, knowing her husband was monitoring her every move, she could not visit the community’s Legal Aid office to seek help for herself and her children. So she went to the dentist.
Renee confided in the Northern Dental Access Center’s on-site attorney, who helped her plan a safe escape. She later told the center, ‘When I saw that there was an attorney available while I was at the dental office, I could finally ask for help and feel safe.’
The nonprofit Northern Dental Access Center teamed up with Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota in 2015 to provide free legal advice to low-income people with health-harming legal needs. This medical-legal partnership (MLP) in Bemidji, Minnesota, is the first MLP within a dental clinic setting.
In addition to one-on-one consultations, the Northern Dental Access Center also offers ‘Know Your Rights’ chat sessions that anyone in the community can attend. Each session focuses on legal issues such as consumer rights or public benefits. At the end of a session, attendees receive a wallet-sized guide so they can take the information home and share it with others.”