Telemedicine Network lets rural residents hold Guelph legal appointments at local health officesLow income residents in Wellington County can now stay close to home while keeping legal appointments with the Legal Clinic of Guelph and Wellington County.
Thanks to a partnership between the Guelph Community Health Centre and the Rural Wellington Community Team, in consultation with the Guelph legal clinic, rural clients can use the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) at their local Family Health Team office to hold legal appointments via computer. The encrypted video chat system ensures clients’ privacy.
“Access to services, particularly because of lack of transportation, is the biggest barrier facing rural residents in Wellington County,” said Elsa Mann, team lead of the Rural Wellington Community Team (RWCT). “By having services provided by secure video link, rural individuals will more easily access services. This will reduce the stress traveling out-of- town can cause.”
The new remote meeting method eliminates the problems of accessing and paying for transportation to Guelph that has prevented some low income rural residents from receiving legal services.
“Having access to the Telemedicine system to do clinical legal consultations is a big step forward in access to justice for rural low-income residents in Wellington County,” said Anthea Millikin, lawyer and Executive Director of the Legal Clinic of Guelph and Wellington County.
Using the OTN system lets clients bring a support person, such as their RWCT outreach worker, during their legal appointment. Monica Dudley, Clinical Telemedicine Coordinator at the Guelph Community Health Centre, said the opportunity to offer the face-to- face Telemedicine program to rural clients in partnership with the legal clinic is very exciting.
“Through this partnership, clients have the opportunity to access timely, secure appointments with legal clinic staff while reducing travel time and cost,” said Dudley. “This enables the client to access services they may not have otherwise, and allows for the appointments to take place in their own community.”
RWCT identified distance and the intimidation factor as barriers that cause mental distress for rural clients meeting with legal service providers. Easier access to legal support services also reduces the risk of harm to clients’ health, especially when they are dealing with precarious housing and income.
“The opportunity to use the Ontario Telemedicine Network system is grounded in social determinants of health,” said Millikin. “If someone is at risk of eviction, their health is at risk.”
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