It took five years to create and fund the first known partnership in the United States between a legal aid law firm and a drug/alcohol addiction treatment center. The partnership has begun in Portsmouth.
Ohio State Legal Services Association (also known locally as SEOLS or Southeastern Ohio Legal Services) and The Counseling Center (TCC) initiated a partnership in December, with the help of a grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation (OSBF). Mark J. Cardosi, Managing Attorney of SEOLS in Portsmouth, said enhancing the likelihood of long-term addiction recovery is the goal driving the collaboration between the legal aid law office and the treatment center.
The new project places a SEOLS lawyer inside TCC offices in Portsmouth and West Union. Although the legal assistance to TCC clients will not be different from that generally available from SEOLS, the partnership focus is on the civil legal problems most often impacting those people in drug/alcohol addiction treatment. Those legal problems are more often associated with employment barriers, access to subsidized housing, and costs related to past criminal court actions.
Cardosi said the idea for the combined action of TCC and SEOLS was based on the national model of medical-legal partnerships (MLP). There are nearly 300 such partnerships in the USA and all of them unite the medical and legal communities under a common mission to address and prevent health-harming social conditions for patients and the community.
“The partnership with SEOLS has been a critical development in our integrated treatment approach,” Andy Albrecht, CEO of The Counseling Center, said. “We feel helping clients resolve legal issues, while in treatment, is very important in the recovery process. Addressing these complicated issues helps remove barriers and increases recovery capital throughout the healing process. The more we can do, while a person is in treatment, to reduce stigma and reduce barriers, the more a client is equipped to continue down the road of recovery after successfully completing treatment.”
Despite the national successes of MLPs nationwide, Cardosi said there was no MLP between a legal aid law firm and a treatment center (solely) for drug/alcohol addiction. The Ohio State Bar Foundation thought the project had merit and provided $50,000.00 to start the effort.
“Stressors, like those presented by legal problems, adversely impact everyone, but especially those recovering from drug/alcohol addiction,” Albrecht said. “Having a lawyer to help TCC clients will be a benefit to TCC and the entire community.”
As the staff of The Counseling Center and Southeastern Ohio Legal Services are now into the fourth month of their new project, they are also looking for a university-based research partner to help examine the usefulness of the combined efforts of the legal and addiction treatment professionals. SEOLS will be seeing TCC clients once a week throughout 2017 to make a difference in the lives of those who are already seeking positive change.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewisPDT.