Community-Based Service Learning

As part of my medical education at the University of Toronto, I am participating in Community-Based Service Learning. For this, medical students partner with community organizations that provide services to the community. My partner is the Health Justice Initiative (HJI), which is a form of medico-legal partnership.

In essence, it is the partnership of community medicine and law. The physician this operates under is from St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. If a patient comes in and they have a medical problem that might be helped by a legal intervention, they are referred to a local legal aid lawyer.

For example, a patient may come in with respiratory problems that ultimately are identified as being caused by living in a moldy/damp apartment. The patient may indicate that the landlord has not been fulfilling their obligation to maintain the property. During the visit to the doctor's office, the patient can be referred to a lawyer that will assist them in determining their legal rights and what avenues for recourse are available to them.

In this way, the Health Justice Initiative conducts both individual and systemic advocacy. On an individual basis, lawyers assist people in solving problems on a case-by-case basis. On a larger scale, the HJI helps advocate for policy reform, such as strengthening tenant rights.

Medico-legal partnerships are much more common in the United States, however, it is hoped that by showing proof of concept with initiatives such as HJI, more of these partnerships will take hold in Canada. As a result, we hope to see both improved policy and laws that protect vulnerable populations, as well as improve the health of patients in the community.

Some recent activity includes discussion among the medico-legal partnerships in the area regarding best practices, including advocating for more physician awareness of how to complete important forms (such as Ontario Disability Support Program) so their patients can access services.

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