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Hospital Treats Patients By Pointing Them to Legal Help

Posted May 27, 2010 5:59 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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The rats kept scurrying through Idrissa Munu's home in Washington, D.C., for several years, even after he killed three with a baseball bat and took them in a plastic bag to the property manager's office to complain.

But after a doctor at the Children's National Medical Center connected the rodents—and mold at the family's apartment—to a 13-year-old's allergies, the issue was soon resolved, he tells the Washington Post.

She pointed the family to another specialist—an attorney at the Children's Law Center. With the help of more than 70 local law firms, and the support of the American Bar Association, the legal aid clinic helps low-income families address issues that are adversely affecting the health of their children. Such medical-legal partnerships have been a growing trend throughout the country since at least the early 1990s, according to the newspaper.

"We train them to go with their gut," says staff lawyer Lauren Onkeles, who works in a clinic in the hospital on Michigan Avenue. "If they think there are legal issues, we tell them not to sweat the details. So a lot of our referrals are, 'It just didn't sound right.' "

For Munu and his family, the clinic helped arrange housing inspections to document code violations that forced the landlord to replace moldy, water-damaged ceilings and seal holes in the walls that had allowed rats to enter their apartment, the Post reports.

He says the situation was resolved within several months, and also credits lawyer Kathy Zeisel for helping the family obtain the teen's allergy medicine in a syrup form that she can swallow and get an independent educational evaluation that should help persuade her school to provide speech therapy.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "If Doctors Ask the Right Questions, Patients Can Be Pointed Toward Legal Help"

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