Donations sustain University Hospitals’ medical-legal partnership for five more years
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Donations sustain University Hospitals’ medical-legal partnership for five more years

The medical-legal partnership between University Hospitals and The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland will be sustained for at least another five years following a key donation by Benesch and an additional gift from Vorys.

“Medical-legal partnerships integrate the unique expertise of lawyers into health care settings to help clinicians, case managers and social workers address structural problems at the root of so many health inequities,” according to the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership.

The program with UH and Cleveland legal aid was launched in 2018 with a $550,000 donation by Benesch.

“UH providers and legal aid attorneys work together to educate physicians, nurses, social workers and other clinical personnel about health-harming legal needs that may be affecting their patients,” the hospital explained. “Those staff members then help identify and refer patients who need legal assistance. Cases can include assistance with public benefits such as Medicaid, educational concerns, housing needs, custody issues and public utility problems.”

Benesch’s continuing donation of $600,000 this year will fund the program through 2028.

The money pays for a full-time, on-site attorney at the health center as well as other related costs of the program, including intake and paralegal support, translation/interpretation services and community legal education.

“Through the Medical-Legal Partnership, we are helping historically underserved children and families thrive in a healthier environment, which leads to healthier outcomes for generations and a stronger community,” said Benesch managing partner Gregg Eisenberg. “Since its inception, more than 2,500 people have benefited from these integrated legal services. After seeing those statistics, it made the decision to renew our commitment to the Medical Legal Partnership an easy one.”

As part of the program, nurses and physicians are trained on events Legal Aid should be made aware of, which the nonprofit then follows long-term through a case-tracking system. Those may touch on education law cases (such as providing bilingual aid and preventing or reducing expulsion); health benefits cases (like increasing or maintaining health benefits coverage for patients); immigration law cases (such as securing safety for victims of domestic violence or human trafficking); and family law cases (like securing child support and establishing parental rights).

An example of a situation where a lawyer might get involved with a patient or family involving a child with asthma. A pulmonary physician might notice that a child’s asthma is tied to poor living conditions. They can report that to the Legal Aid representative, who then works with the family to pursue recourse and navigate options to help them — options a typical citizen might not even know are available.

A spokesperson for Legal Aid said in any given year, it receives somewhere between 500 to 700 referrals.

According to the organization, among cases last year: eviction or involuntary moves were prevented in 93% of relevant cases; safety was secured in 98% of relevant cases; a barrier to education was removed in 97% of relevant cases; debt was reduced in 88% of relevant cases; and rent assistance was secured in 84% of relevant cases.

Vorys has also provided $100,000 to the program this year, which will help Legal Aid expand its work at UH and handle more cases referred to it from on-site attorneys to other practice groups.

Some key people involved in the program for Cleveland Legal Aid include managing attorney Katie Feldman, head of the nonprofit’s medical-legal practice, which includes partnerships with UH, the Cleveland Clinic, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center and MetroHealth.

There is also attorney Danielle Gadomski Littleton and paralegal Tracy Ferron, who are the main medical-legal program contacts onsite at UH.

There are 21 medical-legal partnerships in Ohio today across affiliations with general hospitals, children’s hospitals and other health care sites, according to the NCMLP.

These partnerships rely on donations to function.

“This program is dependent on the generosity of donors in the community like Benesch, who has been so wonderful from the very beginning,” said Patti DePompei, president of University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s and MacDonald Women’s hospitals, in a statement. “A community is only as healthy as the individuals who reside in that community, and this partnership really optimizes health for everyone.”

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