UChicago Medicine program will provide legal aid to survivors of violence during treatment

UChicago Medicine program will provide legal aid to survivors of violence during treatment

There is another level of trauma that survivors of violence in Chicago may face that goes beyond their physical injuries. They could lose their jobs — and then their ability to pay rent — or lose public benefits like food stamps as they spend weeks or months recovering in hospital.

Enter Carly Loughran, attorney at Legal Aid Chicago. She is part of a new initiative at UChicago Medicine in Hyde Park that aims to help victims of violence, such as those who are shot or stabbed, with their civil legal needs.

She teams up with UChicago Medicine’s abuse recovery specialists who are already building relationships with patients and offering support during their recovery. They screen people to see if they need Legal Aid Chicago’s help. Then they refer them to Loughran.

“When I arrive, the patients are waiting for me. And they know I’m associated with a program they already trust,” Loughran said. “If a lawyer were to get cold feet, especially with a population that has every reason to be wary of lawyers in the justice system, that exchange would play out very differently.”

UChicago Medicine recently launched the program, dubbed Recovery Legal Care, with the goal of going beyond providing medical care to also treat social and economic injuries, said Dr. Tanya Zakrison, trauma surgeon at UChicago Medicine.

“We can help people recover physically,” Zakrison said. “But how to fill this legal void?”

Legal aid attorney Carly Loughran (right), UChicago Medicine trauma surgeon Tanya Zakrison (center), and UChicago Medicine chief violence recovery specialist Christine Goggins on Dec. 1 at the Hyde Park Hospital.

Legal aid attorney Carly Loughran (right), UChicago Medicine trauma surgeon Tanya Zakrison (center), and UChicago Medicine chief violence recovery specialist Christine Goggins on Dec. 1 at the Hyde Park Hospital.

Photo by Nancy Wong courtesy of UChicago Medicine

Many patients who present with gunshot wounds live in black and Latino communities that have long been economically disadvantaged, Zakrison said. Helping them keep the social and economic fabric of their lives — their jobs, housing or food stamps — intact could help prevent future violence, she said.

Over the past five years or so, the trauma center has treated more than 20,000 adults and children. About 40% of patients suffered penetrating injuries, such as gunshot or stab wounds, according to UChicago Medicine.

During the initial pilot phase of the program, Loughran spends Thursdays at the trauma center, meeting with patients at the bedside. She assures them that she will return, as she sees the potential for building long-term relationships with some patients beyond their hospital stay. She can devote potentially months to a patient’s needs that a hospital social worker might not have.

“Lawyers are like social workers with teeth,” Loughran said.

For example, while a typical social worker may help a patient complete a food stamp application, they cannot represent that person in court if the application is denied, Loughran said. His group can.

The same applies if an owner attempts to evict a patient. Loughran is their lawyer. Some patients may not be aware that they may be reimbursed by state law to cover expenses arising from a violent crime. Loughran can also help you with this process.

She also trains abuse recovery specialists on how to help patients complete applications for public benefits, which Loughran sees as an extension of her reach.

A second attorney from Legal Aid Chicago is expected to join the project next week. It is planned to add a supervising lawyer and one or two paralegals.

Recovery Legal Care is primarily funded by $2.6 million in federal trauma center grants to cover the program for five years. The initiative will initially focus on adult trauma patients. The goal is to expand to children and teens, Zakrison said.

The researchers plan to study the effectiveness of the program. They want to see how meeting their patients’ social and economic needs affects their overall health — and prevents future gun violence in particular from impacting patients and their families.

Kristen Schorsch covers public health and Cook County at WBEZ.


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