Combating Health Harming Legal Needs

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Many people who visit Houston’s community health clinics deal with stress stemming from inadequate food, unsafe housing or the threat of eviction or incarceration. These stressors take a toll on physical and mental health, and result in what’s known as Health Harming Legal Needs (HHLN) – a social problem remedied through a combination of legal and health care services.

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Dr. Winston Liaw, M.D., M.P.H., said half of the people who have been screened for HHLNs at the Lone Star Circle of Care, a community-based clinic on UH’s campus, have asked to be referred to the UH College of Medicine’s new Medical Legal Partnership (MLP). In addition, many patients who receive care at UH College of Medicine’s Federally Qualified Health Care Center suffer with HHLNs.

A hypothetical example is that someone attends the clinic with an acute asthma attack. Traditionally, when individuals with asthma seek care, they are prescribed inhalers. At the UH College of Medicine, where the person is being considered holistically, their social needs are also considered. And since the asthma may be triggered by untreated mold or dust mites in their home, this becomes a more complicated problem that an inhaler alone won’t fix. If they don’t have the financial means to move or retain an attorney to fight the unsafe conditions, the MLP would step in and provide pro bono services.

Dr. Liaw, chair of Health Systems and Population Health Sciences, is undertaking research about the HHLNs that affect so many. Some of the research concerns whether a patient has fewer healthy than sick days in a month.

"If you have HHLNs, are you more likely to have high blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol? What about depression?" asked Liaw of the study. Ultimately, the research team would like to determine whether being referred to the MLP services in turn reduces these symptoms.

Stewardship and partnerships rouse UH to enliven the Houston neighborhood it borders – Third Ward. This area is a known food desert, as well as lacking in choices for the residents’ medical or legal care. As a good neighbor, UH plans to meet the needs of the people who live and work adjacent to its campus.

Category: Health Equity

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