Community Legal Aid looks to better connect with clients through medical center partnerships

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-19-2023 3:35 PM

GREENFIELD — An organization that provides free legal services to low-income and elderly residents is partnering with Baystate Franklin Medical Center and the Community Health Center of Franklin County in hopes of more easily connecting with people who need its services.

The partnership with Baystate Franklin will enhance the EMPOWER+ (Engaging Mothers for Positive Outcomes with Early Referrals) Family Clinic, a comprehensive screening and referral program that assists pregnant women with substance use disorder, including opioid use. The EMPOWER+ Family Clinic is based out of The Birthplace at Baystate Franklin/Pioneer Women’s Health in Greenfield.

The partnership with the Community Health Center of Franklin County, meanwhile, will help Community Legal Aid connect with potential clients at the center’s Orange and Greenfield locations.

“Community Legal Aid is the sole provider of legal aid for poor folks and elders,” said Managing Attorney Jennifer Dieringer. “We have provided those services for decades. What this does is it really focuses our efforts on finding clients who might not find us otherwise. It relies on the trusted relationships that these folks develop with their medical providers.”

Essentially, Dieringer explained, the partnerships provide a “streamlined” approach to connecting people with appropriate civil legal services.

“I think, especially in more rural counties, it can be difficult for folks to know about our services, or access our services,” she said. “Having partnerships, like medical providers, to help where legal issues are interfering with health, and bring those people to us, it really helps folks in Franklin County effectively reach us and get help from us.”

Community Legal Aid holds office hours at Greenfield Family Medicine in Greenfield, which is part of Baystate Health, and anticipates doing the same at the Community Health Center’s Orange location beginning in early summer. Unless additional funding is secured, the Baystate Franklin partnership, which Baystate Health is funding, will only continue through the end of June.

“Often, folks will have medical issues connected to poverty, not having enough funds to live in a safe place, to get enough food,” Dieringer said, “so we work with folks who are at risk of losing their benefits … or folks who have applied or have been denied.”

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On June 22, Community Legal Aid will host a virtual informational session led by Alyssa Golden, senior supervising attorney for the CORI/Reentry Unit. Golden will talk about the broad range of civil legal issues for which Community Legal Aid provides assistance, as well as options for addressing them, and the connections between criminal records issues and both race and disability discrimination. Register in advance at tinyurl.com/CommunityLegalAction.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.

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