By Sarah Hooper Joel Teitelbaum Ami Parekh Anne Fabiny: For More Info, Go Here…
Legal advocacy is a recognized strategy to address social factors that influence the health of populations with complex care needs. Such advocacy can improve housing stability, increase access to public benefits that support a host of social needs, assure that medical and financial proxy decision makers are in place, and reduce psychosocial distress.
Older adults are disproportionately likely to have complex medical needs. Legal advocacy has been recognized as integral to the health and health care of older adults in the medical literature since 1988, and in current Medicare quality metrics. Additionally, since 1965, the Older Americans Act has provided legal assistance as an “essential service” among other aging supports such as nutrition, transportation, and in-home care. Under the act, state area agencies on aging must provide legal services free to adults older than age 60 with the “greatest social or economic need.”
Yet, while emerging care models for older adults with complex needs are highly multidisciplinary, none incorporate legal advocacy in their design. This is in some ways not surprising as clinicians are not trained to recognize or address legal needs of older patients, and older patients are unable to self-diagnose their legal problems, thus making it unlikely that they will articulate legal needs as such to health care providers, social workers, or case managers.