LAWRENCE – A new partnership between the University of Kansas School of Law and Lawrence Memorial Hospital will offer free legal assistance to low-income patients while providing invaluable hands-on training to law students.
The KU Medical-Legal Partnership at LMH is part of a national movement of hospitals integrating legal services into patient care. The model recognizes that health problems often have solutions rooted in the law, but many patients cannot afford to hire an attorney.
“For example, often patients can improve their health by ensuring they have appropriate medical leave from work or by obtaining a legal guardian who can look out for their best interests,” said Lou Mulligan, associate dean for faculty and professor of law. “This partnership is a triple win. First, it provides a great benefit for our community. Second, it improves the level of holistic care that LMH can deliver to its patients. Third, it provides an outstanding opportunity for our law students.”
Lawrence Memorial Hospital Chief Operating Officer Karen Shumate said LMH was pleased to partner with the law school to improve health care for the community’s most vulnerable members.
“We appreciate the considerable time and energy of the KU Law faculty and staff who helped get this service started at the hospital,” she said. “We anticipate a long collaboration which we hope will lead to other initiatives between KU and LMH.”
Through the partnership, LMH provides office and meeting space for the Medical-Legal Partnership and funds the salary of managing attorney Juliann Morland DaVee, a KU Law graduate with years of experience in the MLP setting.
“Working in the hospital will make it easier for us to meet with patients when they need us most,” DaVee said. “I believe this setting will also be beneficial to students as they learn to interact with patient-clients dealing with very difficult and pressing health and legal needs.”
DaVee began taking clients in late August. Under her supervision, between four and eight law students will start working on cases in the spring. Those students will have the opportunity to conduct intake interviews, develop case strategies, conduct legal research, prepare legal documents, and provide representation in administrative hearings and court – all skills that will be useful in whatever legal career they eventually pursue.
As the students hone their advocacy abilities, they will be helping clients confront difficulties with housing, employment and education; resolve insurance and benefits issues; navigate complications related to immigrant status; bolster personal and family stability, and more.
The LMH partnership builds on the success of a similar arrangement between KU Law and the Department of Family Medicine at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas. Third-year law student Sylvia Hernandez said she gained confidence, case management skills and a wide range of legal experience in the program.
“In the MLP, you never know what type of case you will get. It all depends on what legal services the patient needs,” she said. “I prepared an application for citizenship and a health care power of attorney. Two of my clients spoke only Spanish. Their faces lit up when they realized I could truly understand their situation. It was fulfilling to put people at ease while I advocated on their behalf.”
In the past year, KU students at the KU Med location led by managing attorney Dana Pugh achieved positive outcomes for more than 250 clients. In one case, the MLP helped terminate the lease of a patient whose severe anxiety was exacerbated by a pest infestation at his apartment complex that property managers had ignored for three months. The patient was able to move to another apartment with safe, stable conditions, and his health issues have improved significantly.