On November 12, 2015, the Schubert Center continued their 2015-2016 Conversation Series with “Building a Medical and Legal Team for Child Advocacy.” Sylvia Caley, JD, Associate Clinical Professor at Georgia State University College of Law, and Robert Pettignano, MD, Clinical Professor at Georgia State University and Medical Director of Health Law Partnership (HeLP), spoke about their work creating a medical legal partnership (MLP) at Georgia State University.
Medical Legal Partnerships are a health law partnership between a legal team and a medical organization aimed at addressing the legal issues that can impact healthcare delivery. While there is widespread recognition of the socioeconomic determinants of health, healthcare providers frequently lack the resources aimed at addressing underlying socioeconomic factors. MLPs can assist by helping patients navigate the legal system to improve their access to safe housing, disability payments and many other resources. An estimated 50 million Americans need legal care in order to be healthy. The National Center for Medical Legal Partnership provides additional information and toolkits for establishing a MLP.
Caley and Pettignano discussed their work establishing the Health Law Partnership in Atlanta. Through HeLP they have provided legal services to patients, as well as training to both medical students and law students and policy change advocacy. They discussed cases in which HeLP provided assistance in securing patients’ safe housing and other resources, with significant reductions in hospital admissions. After being contacted by a rehab unit at a local hospital concerned about the high number of head and neck injuries they were seeing in children between ages 5 and 8, the HeLP team researched best practices and found that Georgia law only required a booster seat up to age 6 instead of age 8 as recommended. HeLP worked through partnerships with policy advocacy organizations to successfully change Georgia’s law to require booster seats to age 8.
Pettignano also stressed the benefits to a hospital system of providing a MLP. He noted that MLP assistance can reduce barriers to patient discharge and length of stay as well as decrease readmission and emergency room use. MLPs also help provide a connection to patients’ lives outside of the hospital system, taking a whole person approach to healthcare. After the talk Pettignano and Caley answered questions from medical students and local healthcare providers.