CRMC FILE

Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. Wyoming Tribune Eagle/file

CHEYENNE – After two-and-a-half years being housed with the Laramie County Community Partnership, the Medical-Legal Partnership grant is moving to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.

The Medical-Legal Partnership began in 2017 and is part of a grant given by Equal Justice Wyoming. Recently, the attorney who was providing the legal aid moved onto a different job, so the partnership is using this time to transition to CRMC and hire a new attorney, Equal Justice Wyoming Executive Director Angie Dorsch said.

“It was with the Laramie County Community Partnership, which is kind of an incubator for different programs and projects in the community, but they were ready to spin that off onto its own,” Dorsch said. “So we are just moving that project on to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.”

With the move to CRMC, the program hopes to have more of a stable working environment for the attorney, said Amy Spieker, director of community health at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. The Medical-Legal Partnership aims to be up and running again by early 2020 at the hospital.

The hospital also has grant managing infrastructure in place for the partnership and plans to house the attorney with the rest of its legal team.

“What we see in health care is that we know so many of the problems people present when they come into a clinic. Often they’re not necessarily things doctors are trained to be able to address,” Spieker said.

Having the partnership can help ease the burden on medical staff because they’ll know where to refer patients when they’re having medical-legal problems that are affecting their health care.

“(It’s) making sure they can address the whole patient’s needs, instead of just the narrow medical need they came in with,” she said.

There are a lot of issues that affect people’s health that aren’t necessarily medical problems, Dorsch said. For example, someone might have asthma attacks because their landlord isn’t addressing mold growing in their apartment.

The person could reach out to the partnership for help with getting the mold problem addressed to help their asthma. The partnership can also help people get Medicaid assistance if they are being wrongfully denied.

“There are many medical-legal partnerships across the country. They are something that’s been expanding the last 10 to 15 years,” Dorsch said. “What a medical-legal partnership does is it actually places a legal aid attorney into the health-care setting in order to address the health-harming legal issues.”

People are eligible for the partnership’s assistance if they make 200% of the federal poverty level or less. The income level varies depending on how many people are in a person’s household.

This year, the partnership handled 40 cases before it started its transition. Dorsch noted the number was lower this year due to the partnership moving to CRMC. In 2018, the partnership handled 184 cases.

In addition, the partnership has also helped people save money. In 2018, the partnership helped recover $250,365.24 for people utilizing the service, according to Spieker and Equal Justice Wyoming reports.

This year, the partnership grant was about $79,000, and in 2018, the grant was about $84,000, according to the annual reports. The grant covers the salary of the attorney working for the partnership and additional legal costs that might be necessary. The service is completely free for income-qualifying individuals.

“We know that in our country that wealth and health are strongly associated. The best predictor of your health is your wealth,” Spieker said. “One of the best things this program does is it gets people access to dollars to help them take care of themselves, and it’s dollars they need in order to take care of themselves.”

Isabella Alves is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at ialves@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter @IsabellaAlves96.

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