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Medical Legal Partnerships Help More Rural Minnesotans

As legal issues present challenges for some low-income Minnesotans' health, new Medical Legal Partnerships have expanded their access in more rural parts of the state. (iStockphoto)
As legal issues present challenges for some low-income Minnesotans' health, new Medical Legal Partnerships have expanded their access in more rural parts of the state. (iStockphoto)
March 21, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. – A one-year-old Medical Legal Partnership program has expanded this month to help more rural Minnesotans access legal services in a health care setting.

The partnership provides free legal advice for low-income patients to navigate certain issues that can have negative effects on their health.

For instance, a diabetic patient recently had food benefits restored with legal help after initially losing those benefits.

Supervising attorney Ralonda Mason with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid says this month, an additional lawyer was hired to work with doctors in Stearns and Todd counties.

"It pulls in the services and the expertise of a legal professional to work hand-in-hand with the medical professional, so that together, they can offer a broader range of services that are addressing that patient's health," she explains.

Last year, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation approved grants to support Medical Legal Partnerships in Bemidji, Mankato, Saint Paul and Saint Cloud.

Patients are typically referred to these services by their health care providers.

The Medical Legal Partnerships have historically had trouble maintaining funding since the idea started in the state more than 20 years ago.

Mason says she's thankful that the Centra Care clinics in St. Cloud have agreed to help with funding beyond the life of the Blue Cross grant.

She says the legal services are also now expanding to three more rural clinics.

"We are assisting people with housing issues, with family issues, immigration questions and issues in accessing public programs for basic support," she says.

Mason adds Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid were able to hire a new attorney through a unique fellowship program with the University of St. Thomas Law School.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - MN