McMaster clinic bridges legal and health gaps

March 12, 2018
Article Source
Hamilton Spectator

She is a patient being treated for bedbug bites.

She is also a client being advised on the Residential Tenancies Act because her apartment is infested with bedbugs. 

Therein lies the beauty of the McMaster Family Practice Unit's (MFPU) weekly medical-legal clinic, offered free to each of its 20,000 patients.

Recognizing that legal problems can affect physical and mental health, medical professionals have teamed with lawyers from Legal Aid Ontario and the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic to provide care that bridges that gap and fills a need that often touches the lives of those living in poverty.

The clinic helps to address the "social determinants of health," says Dr. Gina Agarwal, a family physician who founded the clinic along with registered social service worker Dan Edwards. "We know that people who live in poverty are more likely to have problems with their health."

The free clinic began in the fall of 2016 and sees clients by appointment every Monday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the MFPU in the David Braley centre at the corner of Main and Bay streets. In its first year, the clinic had appointments with 70 clients.

The bedbug scenario is an example of a typical patient/client issue. A tenant dealing with a bedbug infestation has rights under the Residential Tenancies Act and may be eligible to receive financial assistance to replace furniture and other items through various public programs. That could, in turn, help alleviate the physical symptoms of bedbug infestation, such as bites and lack of sleep and the mental health issues that can go along with that, such as social isolation and stress.

Doctors and lawyers each have a confidential relationship with their patient or client, so the clinic does not share information between the two without the express consent of the person they are helping.

The clinic has addressed family and criminal court issues, housing concerns, employment law, human rights and refugee matters, and social assistance concerns.

All new patients to the MFPU are screened for legal issues. They are asked to complete an online survey — — which easily and simply takes users through a series of questions designed to identify any legal issues that may be negatively impacting their health.

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