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Jax Daily Record Monday, Sep. 6, 201012:00 PM EST

Medical Legal Partnership achieves pro bono success


by Kathy Para

JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair

The Sulzbacher Center offers high-quality health care to the uninsured at little or no cost. The clinics offer medical, dental, optometry and behavioral health care to more than 1,300 patients each month. However, there are times when the Sulzbacher Center has to rely on community partners like the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership to ensure that patients receive the care that they need.

When a patient came to the clinic seeking relief from severe back pain, the Sulzbacher Medical Clinic needed to refer him to a medical facility equipped to provide the more complex treatment required to ensure his recovery after lumbar fusion surgery. Without Social Security and Medicaid insurance, the patient wasn’t able to get the consistent, ongoing care he needed.

That’s when the Sulzbacher Clinic turned to the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership (NFMLP). This partnership, like more than 150 around the country, links Jacksonville-area physicians with attorneys who use the tandem approach to advocate for patients.

“The Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership’s work in our community has made a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of the homeless men, women and children that the Sulzbacher Center serves every day,” said Sulzbacher Center Chief Program Officer Cindy Funkhouser.

The process begins when various clinics serving the low-income population contact the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership. An NFMLP attorney evaluates whether the referred patient could benefit from legal assistance. If legal assistance is recommended, the case is placed with a pro bono attorney or a Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) staff attorney for representation.

In this particular case, JALA Board Member Renee Harrell offered the legal services of Harrell & Harrell and attorney Mark Papa stepped up to help the clinic’s patient.

“Our client was essentially homeless,” recalls Papa. “He was denied Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and was without money or health insurance.”

Papa, who specializes in Social Security and Disability law at Harrell & Harrell, succeeded in getting the patient’s claims for Social Security Disability (SSD) and SSI benefits approved.

“The outcome of this case was vitally important because the client now has a monthly money benefit that will help pay for essential living expenses,” Papa says. “Additionally, he may now qualify for some Medicaid-related benefits.”

Medical-legal partnerships like the one between Papa and the Sulzbacher Medical Clinic help complete a patient’s recovery. “We are grateful to the lawyers who donate their time at the Sulzbacher Center to provide critically needed legal services,” adds Funkhouser.

The NFMLP looks to pro bono attorneys to represent individual clients. Mid-sized and larger law firms are encouraged to provide expertise among a group of partners, associates and interns in a specific substantive area, such as education, social security, guardianships or immigration.

Larger firms may also consider working with the NFMLP to “adopt a clinic.” The Jacksonville office of Holland & Knight has provided leadership for the NFMLP by starting the adopt-a-clinic model locally, by encouraging other law firms to be involved, and by being instrumental in the formation of the local NFMLP Steering Committee. Solo practitioners and small firms are also encouraged to offer their expertise in assisting an NFMLP patient/client.

Papa, who graduated from Florida State University College of Law in 1999, and who also practices in the field of workers’ compensation and personal injury claims, is happy to donate his expertise to the NFMLP.

There are cases in which the legal profession is needed to help ensure a patient’s health and well-being. Lawyers working with doctors is the collaboration that makes these positive health outcomes possible.

Attorneys interested in doing the same may become involved with the NFMLP by contacting Kathy Para at JALA, 356-8371, ext. 363, or [email protected].

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