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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jun. 8, 201512:00 PM EST

Leadership, pro bono efforts sustain partnership

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by: Kathy Para

The Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership (NFMLP) is part of a network of projects in which professionals from the medical and legal communities combine resources to produce outcomes for low-income and vulnerable patients (children and adults) that positively impact their health and ability to thrive.

It is one of approximately 100 similar initiatives nationwide. Health-care providers in these initiatives who care for low-income individuals and families include lawyers to help keep their patients healthy and safe.

Not every illness has a biological remedy. For example, an asthmatic person will never breathe symptom-free — no matter how much medication is administered — if he or she returns from the doctor’s office to mold-infested housing.

An attorney can intercede to ensure that housing standards in rented properties are in compliance, ensuring that landlords keep units safely habitable.

There are countless examples in which positive health outcomes are achieved in various areas of substantive law including education, guardianship, Social Security, public benefits, immigration and others.

The NFMLP, a project of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, had its beginnings in the early 2000s in collaboration with the Duval County Department of Health.

It was spearheaded by Dr. Jeff Goldhagen with Rebecca Feyerick serving as the staff attorney for the effort.

The project has grown and now accepts referrals from many medical providers including The Sulzbacher Medical Clinic, UF Health/JaxHATS, AgeWell Institute of Baptist Hospital, Children’s Medical Services, Community Hospice, The Wounded Warrior Project, The Veterans Legal Collaborative and, most recently, Wolfson Children’s Hospital, The Players’ Center for Child Health.

Goldhagen and Feyerick have continued to serve in leadership roles with the NFMLP.

In 2010, with a two-year grant from The Florida Bar Foundation, the NFMLP began a focused effort to involve pro bono attorneys in the project with the goal of increasing the capacity to serve low-income patients.

The effort was successful and the number of patients served annually tripled. That level of service has continued and each year nearly 200 patients are assisted with the legal matters impacting their ability to thrive and to be contributing members of our community.

Goldhagen and Feyerick have been consistent and determined champions of the NFMLP. With the inclusion of pro bono attorneys in the service delivery team, Feyerick’s role expanded.

In addition to serving as staff attorney defining legal issues and evaluating cases, she also became the support person for the dozens of pro bono attorneys accepting cases. Her commitment to professional, compassionate service to these vulnerable patients and their advocates has resulted in countless positive benefits in hundreds of families.

This longstanding leadership team will change this month as Feyerick steps down to spend more time with her own family.

Katy Debriere will serve as the new NFMLP staff attorney and Goldhagen will continue as the founding medical champion. Pro bono attorneys will continue to be a critical component in providing needed legal representation.

The NFMLP is a community collaboration that works.

As medical providers identify legal “red flags” and make referrals to the NFMLP, families have the opportunity to resolve the root cause of their barriers to good health. It’s a partnership that makes sense and has proven effective all across the country.

In Northeast Florida, we’ve been fortunate to have the leadership of Feyerick and Goldhagen to establish and maintain our local effort. We’ve also been fortunate to have the participation of dozens of pro bono attorneys stepping up to provide legal representation.

For information on pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit, attorneys are encouraged to contact Kathy Para, chair of The JBA Pro Bono Committee, [email protected].

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