In June 2022, Northwest Human Services (NWHS) established a Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) Program in partnership with the Oregon Health Justice Center (OHJC) to address the legal issues that patients face.

“Our programs are safe and inclusive and focus on addressing the Social Determinants of Health. Our goal is to remove barriers that prevent individuals and families from receiving care in our community.” –Northwest Human Services

NWHS staff work diligently with patients to get a clear understanding of each individual’s barriers to health. Sometimes, stressors in a patient’s life have the potential to become life-threatening if not addressed through social support. For example, one NWHS patient faced significant life upheaval related to severe mental health symptoms. These symptoms caused the patient to neglect important pending legal concerns.

The patient was highly motivated to begin treatment, and with NWHS’s help, their symptoms started to improve. With better health, the patient had capacity to recognize that their pending legal concerns could lead to jail time. The patient had experienced jail once before and felt certain they would rather die than return.

The patient’s dire mindset raised immediate red flags with their care team at NWHS. Staff recognized the patient needed help navigating the legal system.

In November 2021, Lisa DeCelless, PMHNP, made an internal referral to NWHS’s Care Coordination team to address a client’s legal issues and concerns. After a thorough review of the referral, the Care Coordinator assigned the case to a Community Health Worker for MLP intake. The Community Health Worker conducted an in-person meeting with the patient a week later and scheduled an MLP appointment for the next day.

The MLP staff met with the patient twice to provide support and assistance with the legal issues at hand. The MLP staff, the referring provider, and the Care Coordination team all worked together to build a pathway to justice. Specifically, they helped the patient secure an extension on their community service requirement, which ultimately helped the patient avoid a one-year jail sentence.

Despite health setbacks, the patient remains fully engaged in their treatment and maintains regular contact with their care team. The patient is working diligently on fulfilling their mandatory hours and is making significant progress towards their goals. Their story is just one example of how a person’s path to health can feel like a complex maze, full of twists, turns, and unexpected obstacles. Community Health Centers like NWHS strive to be a guiding force through those difficult times.