NBC News highlights the connection between people’s health and legal needs, and features the partnership between The MetroHealthSystem and Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.
By Seth Freed Wessler and Kat Aaron
December 14, 2014
“When Tony Cox, 53, woke up in the hospital after suffering a heart attack when he fell off a ladder during a roofing job, he figured he’d hit bottom. ‘All I could think about was getting better and getting back to my family,’ he says.
But that day in the hospital was not his lowest point. Over a year later, a sheriff’s deputy arrived at the modest two-bedroom house Cox shares with his wife Donna and their now 16-year-old son bearing a notice that their home was in foreclosure. Out of work from the injury, Cox had fallen behind on mortgage payments. ‘We were getting ready to be homeless, to move in with family,’ Donna says. ‘We would have been separated.’
The couple tried to catch up, to renegotiate their mortgage, but could not make the payments—not until they sought help from a legal services attorney, who brought the foreclosure case to court and compelled the bank to renegotiate the terms of their loan. Over the coming years, the person who saved Cox from the worst consequence of his heart attack was not a doctor but a lawyer.
In the last two decades, a growing group of legal services agencies have been paying closer attention to the connections between illness and poverty, and dedicating resources to what they call medical-legal partnerships. The programs station lawyers inside of hospitals and medical clinics to provide legal assistance to patients whose health issues stem from conditions of poverty like poor housing, or whose illness precipitates a decline into poverty, as was the case for the Coxes. The partnership model, which began in 1993 in Boston, has spread to 260 sites in 38 states.”