After witnessing countless patients struggle to follow recommendations due to social circumstances, such as housing or safety issues, the team at CentraCare Family Health Center in St. Cloud, MN, applied for and received a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield to hire a part-time attorney from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid who is able to provide free legal counseling to patients in need of assistance. The partnership is the first of its kind outside the Twin Cities metro area.

In 2018, the CentraCare/Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid partnership received the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation’s Innovation Award in the “Non-profit organization” category. Watch their incredible story below!

At the CentraCare Family Health Center, Kevin Switzer, MD, sees a variety of patients for their primary care. He frequently sees some of his patients struggle to follow his recommendations, due to circumstances not related to their need or want to change. In fact, 60% of a person’s health determinants are related to social factors rather than what a provider can do for them. Often these social factors get in the way of patients getting into the clinic or even focusing on the basics of their health care needs. 

The team at CentraCare Family Health Center, along with Paul Schoenberg, sub-section director of Family Medicine, applied for and received a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance to cover the salary of a lawyer for these patients. Taryn Trujillo-Risom was brought on as the legal partner from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid.

Taryn is at the clinic two and a half days per week and provides free legal aid for patients dealing with a variety of circumstances including housing issues, family law and access to disability benefits. She notes her job is to target any legal issue that is preventing a person from getting to the clinic or focusing on their health needs and help alleviate it. 

Taryn shares that a patient was being stalked by her neighbor, creating anxiety and depression for her and causing her to miss a couple visits with her provider. Her nurse persuaded her to come in for a visit to go over medications and discuss everything that was happening. Fortunately, Taryn was in the clinic to talk with her and to file a petition for harassment restraining order, which she received the next day. Since that day, this patient has been making strides in her health and no longer has to experience harassment.

Often Dr. Switzer sees patients who are homeless because of a legal issue in their past that makes it difficult for them to qualify for housing. While homeless, their health continues to deteriorate until it gets bad enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room, which is extraordinarily expensive. The patients who have been involved in the medical-legal partnership between Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and CentraCare overtime have decreased healthcare costs due to having fewer visits to the emergency center. Dr. Switzer points out that it doesn’t take many eliminated emergency room visits to makeup for a lawyer’s salary.

This medical-legal partnership is the first of its kind outside of the Twin Cities and has already made a huge impact on the healthcare costs and the health of those in our community.