By Ramona Sullivan
There may be treatment that would fully resolve a medical condition, but the patient will never get the treatment without access to medical care. If the condition is caused or aggravated by a problem in the home, perhaps something harmful in the water or the walls, treatment will not solve the medical condition if the problems in the home are not improved. If the condition is caused or aggravated by domestic abuse or stress of harassment from debt collectors, treatment will not solve the medical condition if the abuse or harassment continues. Many problems cannot be solved by medicine alone. Many problems require legal intervention.
In 2007, the American Bar Association passed a resolution in support of Medical Legal Partnerships. In 2010, the American Medical Association passed a similar resolution, recognizing that there are diverse legal issues which affect patient health. According to the National Center for Medical Legal Partnerships, 235 health institutions throughout the country now have a MLP made up of physicians, nurses, social workers, attorneys and paralegals.
Attorney Diane Goffinet, who has been involved with MLP in Southern Illinois since early 2002, describes the arrangement as a collaborative partnership between the medical and legal community. The partners have a shared goal of improving health outcomes for individuals and the community by alleviating legal stressors. “It brings the best of two true professions together to work toward the good of their patients and clients,” she explained.
Goffinet reports that the partnership has changed and grown significantly since the beginning as relationships developed between legal and medical professionals. She sent me a list a recent success stories, demonstrating a wide range of legal services. Healthcare patients access legal services for many issues, including resolving payment issues for medical care, remedying substandard housing conditions, establishing court orders for family and safety issues, exercising exemption rights and stopping illegal harassment from creditors. Once the legal issues are addressed, patient health improves.
I asked Goffinet if there is a role for pro bono attorneys in MLP, and she enthusiastically responded “Definitely!” Attorneys who are interested in getting involved can contact the ABA Medical Legal Partnership Pro Bono Project. The website includes pro bono opportunities and resources. Kelly Scott-Flood is the ABA Pro Bono Coordinator for Medical Legal Partnerships.