Mental health issues rose dramatically during the pandemic as more Americans found themselves battling depression and anxiety. But some people who would choose to see a doctor for help would not get referred to a therapist by their doctor, rather a lawyer.
It is known as a medical legal partnership, a growing practice among doctors and law firms who team up to help patients.
The idea is to help a person’s mental ailments by treating their legal woes, one of the primary culprits of mental illness of patients who seek help from these organizations.
Whether it be housing, jobs, or insurance, the practices work pro bono to help their clients. Across the country, there are around 450 of these organizations.
In 2020, the Center for Medical Legal Partnership estimated medic legal partnerships helped 75,000 people nationwide.
“It’s really gratifying work,” said Marc Scanlon, a lawyer at Salud Health Family Services, a medical legal partnership located in Colorado. “I think I enjoy this work so much because we get to see that change. We get to see the impact we’re making.”
A few years ago, Scanlon got in touch with Fernando Muñoz Flores, a middle-aged roofer who had hurt his back on the job.
After failing to get disability insurance, Muñoz Flores says he developed depression because he was unable to earn an income to help support his family.
“I knew that if I didn’t go in to get some sort of help, I would’ve had thoughts about getting hurt, or hurting myself,” said Muñoz Flores, through a translator.
Through work with Scanlon, however, Muñoz Flores was able to get disability insurance and provide for his family, even though he still cannot work due to the injury. He says it has relieved his feelings of depression and anxiety without the use of medication.
“Doctors we work with, they tell us we can provide all the perfect medications, we can do everything right at exams, but sometimes the patients are still coming back in and their health has not improved,” said Scanlon.
The problem for medical legal partnerships has always been, and continues to be, funding, which comes from grants, private donations, and state resources. Because of it, lawyers who work typically do not get compensated similarly to those in private firms, but they are driven to the work because of the impact they can have.
“It’s really gratifying,” said Scanlon.