Erlanger partnering with 'Legal Aid of East Tennessee'
HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB)- A stay in the hospital can be a stressful time. Beyond being sick or injured, there are sometimes legal issues to deal with as well. Now, a new partnership between Erlanger and 'Legal Aid of East Tennessee' will help patients with the most financial need, cut through the red tape.
Erlanger administrators say the program is targeted toward lower income patients. Health officials say sometimes their patients have outside legal issues that may be affecting their health, a problem doctors really can not do anything about. Now, these two fields are coming together to fill that gap.
Administrators and doctors at Erlanger are partnering with the legal community in efforts to help their patients before they leave the hospital.
"What happens when they leave our facility is something we have very little control over," says Dr. Cy Huffman, Chief Medical Officer for Erlanger.
"We treat everybody that comes in the door and we have a lot of low income patients that legal problems that affect their health," says Dale Hetzler, Chief Legal Officer at Erlanger.
He says for the past year the hospital has been working to partner with Legal Aid of East Tennessee, opening a new health law partnership office.
"There's a tremendous, well-documented need for civil legal assistance in all of East Tennessee including the Chattanooga area" says Dave Yoder, Executive Director of Legal Aid.
He says they will help provide free, direct legal services to Erlanger patients with household incomes that fall below the federal poverty line. He says by sitting down and reaching out to these patients, they can help them with everything from education to getting public benefits, like food stamps. In addition, they can tackle housing issues that affect a patient's health or give resources for escaping a domestic violence situation.
"Access to justice, a fair legal system, is everybody's responsibility and it's in everybody's best interest," says Yoder.
And doctors agree.
"This will also be a great educational tool as we train our future doctors that this professional partnership is what it is required to provide the continuity of care that is needed for our community," says Dr. Mukta Panda.
"We hope that we can spread the concept and the program across East Tennessee," says Yoder.
One of the challenges with this program is funding. Erlanger and legal aid have about $80,000 to run the program for six months. During that time, they hope to collect data and prove to the community that this service is needed and hopefully even more funding will come.