Patients can now sort out their social security benefits and get their blood pressure checked — all in one visit to the doctor’s office.
The Cowlitz Family Health Center is offering legal services to any local, low-income families every Thursday at its Longview clinic, 1057 12th Ave. The service, provided by the Northwest Justice Project, is just another way for the health center to serve its patients, said Julie Nye, a nurse and quality administrator at the Family Health Center.
Every year, the health center treats more than 22,000 patients. Many have legal troubles — with Social Security, housing, disability benefits or other issues — that prevent them from fully benefitting from the medical care they receive, Nye said Thursday. The legal consultations help patients sort out their most basic concerns, so they can focus on becoming healthier overall, she said.
“Our philosophy is to treat the whole person. I may talk to them about not eating enough vegetables, but if they’re out on the street, vegetables are not going to be high on their priority list,” she said. “Having (an attorney) here, being able to quickly refer people to someone, it provides patients relief.”
With an attorney on site, patients can more conveniently seek the help they need, said Chris Larsen, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at the Family Health Center.
“This is a blessing in disguise,” she said Thursday. “They can just drop in and talk to (the lawyer). It’s in a familiar place and it’s comfortable.”
The legal consultations became available in January and started picking up more clients within the past three months.
Northwest Justice Attorney Jeffrey Keddie, who specializes in family law, said he sees about five to seven clients a week, devoting at least 20 minutes to each. He’s seen many of them before at the Northwest Justice Project. But, for people who haven’t dealt much with lawyers, Keddie’s presence at the health center removes the usual financial and convenience barriers.
“People who come to the health center come here expecting to only receive medical services. To be able to receive (legal advice) in the same location, it’s an easier process,” Keddie said Thursday. “This is another service to add to the Family Health Center’s palette.”
If a case doesn’t fall within Keddie’s specialty, he refers patients to the Cowlitz Wahkiakum Legal Aid.
Keddie hopes to expand his services to other Family Health Center locations. He already visits the Woodland clinic at 1215 Lewis River Road the first Wednesday of every month.
Larsen said for some patients, having Keddie’s help provides almost instantaneous health benefits.
“You can see it in their faces. They’re relieved. It reduces their stress,” she said.