Live Well Omaha leads a coalition of organizations that are committed to prioritizing and improving health conditions that impact the health of our community. We’ll be featuring these coalition members and what role their organization is playing in our community’s journey to becoming an Accountable Health Community.
Ann Mangiameli is an attorney and manager of the Health, Education & Law Project (HELP) with Legal Aid of Nebraska. Ann has been an active voice around the coalition table and we asked her to share more with us about their work.
Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Health, Education & Law Project (HELP) is a collaboration with hospitals to remediate or eliminate legal issues that affect a patient’s health. As part of this effort, HELP attorneys spend a portion of their week within the hospitals, meeting with patients, often in their hospital rooms. Additionally, HELP attorneys provide ongoing education to health care staff to help them learn to spot legal issues that may be affecting their patients.
Although some legal issues are easy to link to health such as Medicaid which pays for treatment, others are not as evident. Representing someone in a food stamp denial so they don’t have to choose between paying for medication or food is one of those needs that is less obvious. HELP attorneys often assist with legal issues that affect patients when they are outside of the hospital. These are often environmental factors that cause readmission and exacerbation of symptoms. Mold, rodents, and bugs, or a lack of utilities and running water in patients’ home, can bring them back to the hospital or keep them ill. HELP attorneys represent patients in these situations to force landlords to fix the problems which results in better health for the patient.
Spotting health-harming legal needs requires patients to meet with health care providers. Lack of primary care and ongoing access to regular treatment frequently allows a patient’s legal and health issues to go untreated until they become an emergency. Ongoing primary care visits would allow a health care provider to identify a patient living in a moldy home and refer him to a HELP attorney, before the patient becomes ill, misses work, loses employment and can’t pay rent. Unfortunately, many of those living in Nebraska do not have access to regular doctor visits. This lack of access to care can result in costly emergencies.
Providing individuals with access to those factors which affect their health is a primary focus of the Accountable Health Community. As we move forward, focus on access to healthy food, affordable and safe housing and ongoing access to health care will play an important role in eliminating some of the health-harming legal needs HELP addresses.
Legal Aid of Nebraska’s mission is to promote justice, dignity, hope, and self-sufficiency through quality civil legal aid for those who have nowhere else to turn. For more information about their services, visit legalaidofnebraska.org.