by Kathy Para
JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair
Pro Bono Spotlight
The Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership (NFMLP) has scheduled the first two free CLE webinars designed to introduce and train volunteer attorneys (CLE accreditation pending). The upcoming live web trainings will be in the areas of Education Advocacy and Guardian Advocacy/Temporary Relative Custody. Education Advocacy will be presented by Professor Rebekah Gleason of the Florida Coastal School of Law from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on April 30. Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) attorney, Kim Martyn, will be conducting the Guardian Advocacy/Temporary Relative Custody webinar from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. May 14.
There is no charge for the two-hour, lunchtime webinars, but attorneys are asked to commit to accepting at least one pro bono case within one year of participating in the webinar. Attorneys interested in participating in the webinars should contact Kathy Para, [email protected], or 356-8371, ext. 363. Pro bono attorneys will have the opportunity to be part of the medical-legal team helping to ensure environments where patients/clients can thrive.
“We are tremendously fortunate to have two extremely knowledgeable and civic-minded attorneys to help us in these first two areas,” Para says.
Gleason has broad expertise in family and child advocacy and education law.
“Students who are not receiving educational services designed for their exceptionality are often doomed to academic failure and the related health and social problems that accompany failure in school,” said Gleason. “We’ll be training pro bono attorneys to advocate for these students to help ensure that their education needs are met.”
Many times, these students in need of advocates are identified at local health clinics by doctors and medical personnel evaluating the educational, social, and environmental determinants that are impacting the student’s health and wellness.
Kim Martyn specializes in family law and domestic violence issues. She practices at JALA’s downtown office where she is the Director of Advocacy.
“The legal advocate trained in guardian advocacy and temporary relative custody can be a key player in stabilizing the daily life of a disabled person or a minor child,” she said.
“A doctor may refer a patient for legal assistance when a disabled young person is turning 18 and needs a family member authorized to act on his behalf. Temporary Relative Custody is allowed by Florida law as a means of authorizing a close family member to give permission for medical treatment and other services needed by a minor relative child when that child’s family is in transition or unstable. It’s important that caring adults are legally authorized to advocate for these vulnerable and young patients.”
The NFMLP was created as a unique collaboration among doctors and lawyers whose mission is to improve the health outcomes of low-income and vulnerable children and adults by providing a multi-disciplinary team approach to patient care in our community. It tries to address legal or social problems that may be causing or contributing to a person’s overall health.
“Medical personnel may suspect that environmental, educational, or economic legal problems are barriers to a patient’s long-term wellness and refer the patient for a legal screening with the NFMLP,” says Kathy Para, Operations Team lead for the NFMLP. While the NFMLP has been in existence for several years, recent new funding from the Florida Bar Foundation has provided an opportunity to expand the effort.
That expansion includes recruiting volunteer attorneys who are willing to take on these crucial cases.
“We’re fortunate to have the leadership of Holland & Knight in recruiting pro bono attorneys to become part of the medical-legal teams working on behalf of children and families in need,” said Para.
“When a physician identifies a potential legal issue in his or her patient, that patient is then referred to the medical legal partnership for the legal consultation and placed with a pro bono attorney,” says Donny MacKenzie, a partner with Holland & Knight. “With the patient’s permission, the doctor and attorney can communicate about the case and work toward providing a holistic approach to the patient’s problem. Oftentimes, a social or legal situation is the impediment to a healthy outcome and lawyers and doctors can achieve a better result.”
Three major areas of need for pro bono assistance are education advocacy; guardian advocacy/temporary relative custody; and social security disability. Plans for a webinar on social security disability are in development.
The Medical-Legal Partnership for Children was founded in 1993 by Dr. Barry Zuckerman as a local program serving patient-families at Boston Medical Center and affiliated health centers. A staunch advocate for children, Zuckerman nevertheless found that his skills as a doctor were insufficient to keep his low-income pediatric patients healthy. His innovation — bringing poverty lawyers into the medical setting to help families — led to dozens of like-minded doctors and lawyers establishing medical-legal partnerships in their communities.
In April 2006, MLPC launched its National Center to support the transformation of health care and legal service delivery through the expansion, advancement, and integration of the medical-legal partnership model. Since 2006, the National Center has provided technical assistance to partnership sites, facilitated the MLP Network, and coordinated national research and policy activities related to preventive law, health disparities, and the social determinants of health.
In January 2009, MLPC’s National Center officially became the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership (NCMLP) signaling both an expanded clinical focus to serve all vulnerable populations and a bifurcation of Boston’s local and national offices. As part of this transition, Medical-Legal Partnership/Boston was established, which carries the designation of MLP Network Founding Site.
Attorneys practicing in other areas of civil law who would like more information on the NFMLP are encouraged to contact Para. Attorneys are needed in a variety of substantive areas including landlord/tenant law, Medicaid and Public Benefits, Social Security, and others.