TAMMY Sadler-Chase was sick and uninsured.
She had lost her mobility and her sight after being diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. Her hospital bills had reached nearly $200,000. And every time she applied for insurance, she was denied.
Desperate for help, Sadler-Chase called the PHMC Rising Sun Health Center in Olney, where she was connected to a lawyer named Lydia Gottesfeld, who helped her secure proper care and health-care coverage.
Sadler-Chase is one of more than 400 patients who are utilizing Rising Sun Health Center, which this month officially began offering on-site financial and legal services to its clients, making it the first of its kind in the nation.
Located in the Rising Sun Shopping Plaza at Front Street and Olney Avenue, the health center had worked for years with the nonprofit Community Legal Services (CLS) and the financial literacy nonprofit, Clarifi, to assist low-income patients, but formalized the relationship on March 9 by establishing health, legal and financial counseling all under one roof.
Gottesfeld, a CLS lawyer, said the idea was to tackle the social factors that influence health.
"The typical example is the kid who keeps coming in because he's got asthma and the issue is that he's got mold in his apartment and the landlord hasn't fixed it," she said. "That is where a lawyer can step in."
The goal is to make it more convenient for patients to deal with problems that would normally require them to run around the city, dealing with seemingly insurmountable amounts of paperwork and bureaucratic mazes, Gottesfeld said.
Dinetta Armstrong, deputy director of Public Health Management Corp., which oversees the health center, agreed.
With a lawyer, financial counselor and nurse-practitioners all under one roof, she said problems with financial planning, applying for food stamps or health insurance can become easier to handle.
Patty Hasson, Clarifi's executive director, said the agency had partnered with CLS for years.
"Our clients at times need legal services, particularly around a mortgage-foreclosure crisis," she said. "A lawyer can help them through the crisis."
A common issue patients face is trying to find the room in their budgets to pay their health-insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act, Gottesfeld said. By working with CLS, Clarifi and a social worker, patients can find the additional help they need to make those payments.
"It has been a really amazing partnership," Gottesfeld said. "We all bring our different backgrounds and all come together to help our patients."
The health center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m on Mondays and Tuesdays and from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.