Legal Aid Lawyers Partner with Doctors to Improve Patients’ Health

January 22, 2016 - The Medical Legal Partnership Project (MLP) recently made national headlines in September of 2015 when President Obama announced his Presidential Memorandum to create the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable to address the need for access to civil legal aid in our country. This roundtable was in response to the documented relationship between having access to civil legal services and the social factors that impede health. See the Presidential Memorandum for details. 

According to the Huffington Post, research shows that sixty percent of our health is determined by social and environmental factors. Imagine living in poverty and being ill, only to have to deal with deplorable living conditions, denied health care coverage, and the struggle of trying to put food on the table. This is the case for some of the clients of our Medical Legal Partnership Project. 

Since 2008, Legal Aid Society’s MLP Project has responded to the needs of 1,731 clients through 2,355 cases in our community, helping to secure healthcare benefits (public and private), Social Security benefits, will preparations, and providing assistance in securing immigration status. In addition, MLP attorneys have been able to successfully file for emergency Medicaid and help to qualify clients for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). MLP also intervenes in cases where clients require protection from domestic abuse and help to ensure stable and secure housing by referring clients to our Domestic Violence and Fair Housing Projects.

Today, there are 292 Medical Legal Partnerships in 36 states, 3 of which are in the state of Florida. The first Medical Legal Partnership began in 1993 in the Boston Medical Center. It was the catalyst that opened the door to future Medical Legal Partnerships, when doctors recognized that they were able to improve a patient's medical status with the assistance of civil legal services. Legal Aid’s MLP Project sees clients at 4 Health Care District Clinics and 5 community health clinics. View our clinic sites.

Legal Aid has developed a screening tool to help identify legal determinants that have a negative outcome on the health of our clients. As we embark on 2016, the MLP Project has plans to educate additional healthcare providers on the importance of MLP and the implementation of the MLP’s screening tool. The continued need to create this important relationship between MLP, primary care providers, emergency rooms, and urgent care centers is critical to improving medical outcomes. Last September, PBS NewsHour took an inside look at "Why Doctors are Prescribing Legal Aid for Patients in Need".

According to MLP’s Supervising Attorney, John Foley, the Medical Legal Partnership has had a tremendous impact on not only documenting that legal intervention improves medical outcomes, but the fact that addressing social issues is just as important. He feels that it is necessary to identify other problems that are contributing factors to a client's health, such as having access to transportation to a medical center, addressing issues of substance abuse, and identifying other environmental factors. He's not the only one who agrees. President Obama stated in his Presidential Memorandum, "Equal access to justice helps individuals and families receive health services, housing, education, and employment; enhances family stability and public safety; and secures the public's faith in the American justice system." To read the full Memorandum, click here.

A successful collaboration takes a village and nothing paints a better picture than a client’s story. Julie, a client who suffers from schizophrenia and is unable to work, was referred to the MLP because she was denied SSD (Social Security Disability) benefits. At the time of her initial visit, Julie was at risk of losing her home due to foreclosure. Our staff was able to recover $9,150 in back SSD benefits and monthly payments of $769. This not only enabled her to have access to medical benefits but also provided her with the funds to save her home.

"Christina Russo, Vicki Tucci Krusel, along with their paralegals Lisa Santos and Anna Veguez, were so kind and helpful. They got me through the whole process. They did a fantastic job, which I am so thankful for. They are the best."- Julie

In order to expand our Medical Legal Partnership Program, we continue to require additional funding resources. Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County invites your support to help enable more clients to access civil legal services to improve their overall health through our Medical Legal Partnership Project. Click here to show your support.

For more information, please go to the National Center for Medical Legal Partnerships.