A Lawyer Instead of a Doctor

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Imagine this scenario. A woman experiences respiratory problems. She goes to her doctor. He offers a prescription for the symptoms and then does the unexpected. He inquires about her housing situation.

She talks about water leaks, cockroaches, mice, and mold.

He expresses concern that the environment is contributing to her illness. He refers her, not to another medical specialist, but to a lawyer. To help her deal with her landlord.

Sound implausible?

Such a scenario is being played out in Southern California and across the nation as legal teams join forces with medical doctors to improve patients' living conditions in low-income neighborhoods. The awareness of the link between environment and health marks another positive shift in our country.

The following article appeared recently in the Los Angeles Times:

Sometimes, good legal help is the best medicine

Ten medical-legal partnerships in California bring doctors and lawyers together to improve patients' living conditions. The program serving South L.A. and Compton has assisted 866 clients since August.

Maria Perez's fever had climbed to 103, her body ached and she had trouble breathing. After being told in the emergency room that she had pneumonia, Perez went to a clinic in South Los Angeles for a follow-up appointment.

The doctor asked Perez about her housing situation. Her apartment had cockroaches and mice, Perez said, and rain came through a broken window and filled the walls with mold. The doctor wrote prescriptions to treat the pneumonia and an asthma flare-up and then did something that he hoped would prevent her from getting even sicker: He sent her down the hall to talk to a lawyer.

The attorney, Dennis Hsieh, contacted both the landlord and the Los Angeles Housing Department. The living conditions improved, and so did Perez's health.

"The medicine wasn't what cured me," said Perez, 49. "It was Mr. Dennis and what he did."

The full article can be viewed here.