Doctors and lawyers join forces for UofL pediatric patients

UofL Pediatrics patients with health-related legal issues can now have a lawyer on their health care team, thanks to Doctors & Lawyers for Kids. This medical-legal partnership, which was piloted at University of Louisville Children &Youth Project, has expanded and will be available to patients at Kosair Children’s Hospital and UofL Pediatrics’ other general pediatrics offices, UofL Pediatrics-Stonestreet and UofL Pediatrics-Broadway.

Doctors & Lawyers for Kids is a collaboration of UofL Pediatrics, Kosair Children’s Hospital, the Louisville Bar Association and the Legal Aid Society. Its mission is to address social, economic and environmental issues that can negatively affect children’s health.

“Simply fending off germs and accounting for family history isn’t always enough to keep a child well. Sometimes legal issues force children to live in unhealthy environments,” said Faye Jones, M.D., UofL General Pediatrics division chief. “Thanks to the foresight and generosity of Louisville’s legal community, we are able to step beyond diagnosis and offer preventive legal services in a medical setting.”

As a part of their ongoing care, doctors seek underlying reasons for children’s illnesses and refer them as needed to an in-house legal team that includes a full-time lawyer and part-time paralegal.

“Because lawyers have expertise in poverty law, they understand the challenges many families face in their daily lives and are well-schooled in getting those issues resolved efficiently,” said Jeffrey A. Been, executive director of the Legal Aid Society.

Cases that can’t be resolved at the clinic-level are referred to the to the Legal Aid Society, the Louisville Bar Association’s Pro Bono Consortium, or to supervised law students in the Legal Clinic of the UofL Brandeis School of Law.

Doctors & Lawyers for Kids helps with a wide range of problems for indigent patients, including public benefits as well as those related to housing, custody, immigration and tax issues. The medical-legal partnership does not provide representation in criminal law cases or in cases of liability that are generally handled on a contingency fee basis.

Doctors & Lawyers for Kids was conceived in 2009 when the Louisville Pro Bono Consortium tapped one of its members to look into a medical-legal partnership for the Louisville community. Martha Hasselbacher, a retired general counsel at Norton Healthcare, professor of Health Law at the UofL Brandeis School of Law and past president of the Louisville Bar Association and Legal Aid Society, had the background and connections needed to undertake the initiative.

“Together, doctors and lawyers can work to avert some of these health crises for our community’s neediest children,” Hasselbacher explained. “While popular culture often portrays doctors and lawyers as adversaries, when we work together for the benefit of patients, we can be a powerful force.”

The program was piloted at Children &Youth Project last summer. C&Y is a large primary care teaching practice of UofL Pediatrics. Its multidisciplinary health team cares for approximately 9,500 children, primarily those with the greatest medical and socioeconomic needs. The Stonestreet practice cares for 6,200 patients and the Broadway practice sees about 8,000 children.

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