LMH Health and KU School of Law team up to provide healthcare and legal aid to patients
Jessica Brewer, LMH Health
In the 1990s, Boston Medical Center began noticing pediatric patients being treated for asthma were not showing signs of improvement after treatment. The healthcare team learned that children were returning to homes overtaken by mold and other infestations where landlords had disregarded health codes. Since the team knew they could not provide a prescription to treat the patient’s housing conditions, they reached out to seek legal assistance for the patients, and thus began the first-ever medical-legal partnership.
LMH Health has partnered with the University of Kansas School of Law since 2016 to provide the KU School of Law Medical-Legal Partnership at LMH Health. The program provides free legal services to qualified patients who have legal needs affecting their health. Since the KU MLP opened, the managing attorney and legal interns from KU Law School have provided legal assistance with over 1,000 different legal needs for patients. Referrals come from providers and staff at any of LMH Health’s facilities who have spotted a health-harming legal need.
Lumen Mulligan, Earl B. Shurtz Research Professor and supervisor for the KU School of Law Medical-Legal Partnership at LMH Health, said that medical problems are often, in part, legal problems.
“Patient health outcomes can often improve if patients have a protection from abuse order, access to safe housing, can appeal a denial of food stamp benefits, can access medical-leave benefits, or expunge outdated court records that are currently preventing employment,” he said. “Medical-legal partnerships help healthcare providers diagnose and cure these problems for patients.”
Mulligan said that above all, the KU MLP ensures that patients lead healthier lives. This may mean that they help by preventing utility companies from disconnecting power so patients can be discharged into a safe home, appealing a denial of Medicaid Qualified Medicare Beneficiary Plans, obtaining Medicaid coverage, ensuring patients have sufficient food upon discharge, seeking proper guardians for patients in need of stewardship and helping expunge now stale minor criminal records.
Juliann Morland DaVee
“As these examples demonstrate, having medical teams and legal teams working closely together through this partnership allows us to more thoroughly address a patient’s whole health,” said Juliann Morland DaVee, managing attorney for the KU School of Law Medical-Legal Partnership at LMH Health. “Also, by providing access to legal services within a healthcare setting, it often makes it possible for patients to see their doctor and lawyer in the same visit. This is a crucial benefit for many who would not otherwise have access to services to address their legal needs, transportation to get to a legal appointment, or for some, even a safe phone number or address to otherwise communicate their legal needs to an attorney.”
Sheryle D’Amico, vice president of the Physician Division, said this partnership has been incredibly invaluable to LMH Health.
“For patients in need, the program helps ‘close the gap’ by offering legal services that ultimately support the pursuit of best possible clinical outcome for that patient,” she said. “The feedback from providers and patients has been simply amazing.”
The partnership between KU Law and LMH Health not only benefits a patient’s health, but the community and the hospital as well. For example, by helping patients get insurance benefits, the medical-legal partnership can improve a patient’s access to healthcare, coverage of care and reduce uncompensated care for the hospital.
“When we address these legal/social determinants of health, the MLP is often able to prevent future health issues and even help reduce emergency room and hospital visits,” Morland DaVee said. Similarly, Mulligan and Morland DaVee agreed that patients can often leave the hospital sooner when they are returning to a safe home and work environment that the MLP helped to procure.
COVID-19 has had an effect on many aspects of business and care over the past few months. Morland DaVee said thanks to technology and the strong support of the staff at KU Law and LMH Health, the KU MLP has continued to accept referrals and provide legal assistance without interruption.
“We continue to get referrals on guardianships, benefits and insurance questions, protection orders, advance directive needs and housing concerns,” she said. “In addition, the medical-legal partnership is uniquely positioned to be able to educate both providers and patients on a broader level regarding legal issues members in our community are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Morland DaVee emphasized that addressing unmet legal needs is essential to a person’s health. She said KU Law and LMH Health’s collaboration through the medical-legal partnership has been crucial to improving many patient health outcomes.
“I am extremely thankful to the administration at LMH Health and KU Law, the care coordination department and the KU MLP advisory committee, who work together to provide the underlying support that allows the KU School of Law Medical-Legal Partnership at LMH Health to serve patients,” Morland DaVee said. “I am blessed to be part of the KU MLP and am grateful to those that saw the need for this program and made sure it became a reality. I am proud to be partnered with a health system that understands the need to treat the whole person and I am thankful to LMH Health for allowing the KU MLP to work alongside them in their mission to do just that.”
Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health.
Morland DaVee said the medical-legal partnership allows patients at LMH Health to be cared for, both medically and legally. The partnership has provided assistance to patients in the community and hours of education about public service through the law to legal interns. The legal work the medical-legal partnership provides might involve the attorney or legal interns:
- Meeting with patients and assisting with advanced directive documents during their oncology treatments and their dialysis appointments;
- Speaking with patients to provide advice to patients on acute inpatient and skilled nursing units and outpatients clinics;
- Meeting with families and patients in the emergency department to advise on everything from guardianships to housing issues;
- Consulting with new parents who need guidance about protection orders;
- Working with providers in clinics such as cardiology and pulmonology to keep patients’ lights on or improve housing conditions;
- Offering guidance to patients or their families who need assistance on Medicaid issues or benefits denials;
- Drafting countless advance directives, both outpatient and bedside; or
- Providing safety plans and protection orders to survivors of domestic violence being treated in the emergency room.