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New partnership to provide free legal assistance to qualified patients

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Michael Mroziak, WBFO
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A new partnership is uniting members of the medical and legal fields together in a new service opening within the walls of Erie County Medical Center. The MedLaw Cancer Partnership of Western New York will provide free legal advice to qualified patients.

The partners involved include the Center for Elder Law and Justice, Western New York Breast Health, Erie County Medical Center Corporation and ECMC Foundation. Through the partnership, attorneys will be available to provide free assistance in civil legal matters while undergoing a health situation.

Those who may qualify for the free service include low-income individuals and elderly patients. MedLaw participants say many social or personal hardships may complicate a patient's health.

According to Karen Nicolson, CEO of the Center for Elder Law and Justice, less than four out of every ten low-income individuals have access to legal help. Poorer individuals, she stated, deal more with the legal system and if they become ill, the consequences can be devastating.

"If you are poor and you can't pay your bills and you can't make your rent payment, you're going to be evicted in court," she said. "If you lose your job, perhaps you lose it because you're suffering from breast cancer and you miss too much work and you lose your job, you're probably going to have to declare bankruptcy. You may lose your home to mortgage foreclosure."

Rachel Baldassaro, an attorney who will be stationed within ECMC as part of the program, says health care providers are being trained to recognize common legal problems that, because of the related stress, may impact a patient's health.

"In this type of partnership, attorneys are actually embedded at a health care facility and are included as an integral part of the patient care team," she said.

The program will be available to qualified patients within ECMC, ECMC Foundation services including the Mobile Mammography Unit and patients at Western New York Breast Health.

Lisa Yaeger, counsel to Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, added that while the participating partners include entities specializing in women's breast health, the service is also available to assist men.

"Legal needs are both sides of the aisle, in every way," she said.

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