In an effort to improve access to health care and regional health, Ballad Health is working with the Appalachian School of Law and Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business to establish a medical-legal partnership to help patients receive legal assistance.

Dr. Matthew Loos, the chief academic officer at Ballad Health, said the service is an example of what the health system was designed to do — providing care to the region beyond what patients would receive from doctors and nurses.

“Now, we’re really getting into population health, we’re really getting into our ability to uplift our region through programs like this,” he said. “It really is speaking to the promise of Ballad.”

Ballad Health said medical-legal partnerships, which combine health and legal services in a single site of care, can make it easier for patients to get life-saving medicine, appeal wrongful denials of insurance coverage and help patients receive disability benefits or financial help through unemployment assistance or the CARES Act.

They can also help patients avoid eviction and connect families to resources like food banks, domestic violence shelters and suicide prevention assistance. The system said the partnerships can also help recover costs for hospitals by, for example, challenging insurance coverage denials.

Ballad Health said in a press release that a team of students and faculty from the Appalachian School of Law plus lawyers representing the Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society and Legal Aid of East Tennessee will help patients address medical and legal problems that impact overall health.

In the U.S., 450 health provider organizations and 58 law schools participate in medical-legal partnerships, which operate in 49 states.

Loos said patients in need will receive information about how to contact the partnership so they can speak directly to attorneys who can be their advocate on an array of issues. The service will be free and available to patients across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

The Pamplin College of Business will track the program’s success.

“We anticipate the results from research conducted through our partnership with Ballad Health and the Appalachian School of Law will document the value of this medical-legal partnership to the health of people in our region and to its economic wellbeing,” said Robert Sumichrast, the dean of the Pamplin College of Business, in the system’s press release. “The research will also help other parts of the country design (medical-legal partnerships) that make social and economic sense.”

Elizabeth McClanahan, the president and dean of Appalachian School of Law and a former Virginia Supreme Court justice, said medical-legal partnerships save lives and money by reducing health care costs and improving health outcomes.

She noted that social factors play a big role in addressing a patient’s health care needs.

“It’s a pretty incredible example of how coming together to address one common problem can have exponential positive results as opposed to all of us staying in these separate silos,” she said of the partnership. “Because that’s now how the real world works. We all work together.”