Health + Legal Care: Rx for Better Health Outcomes

Last year, CLSMF CEO Kimberly Sanchez sought funding from The Florida Bar Foundation to initiate a Statewide Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) program to improve the well-being of people and communities by leading health, public health, and legal sectors in an integrated, upstream approach to combating health-harming social conditions. This program embeds lawyers and paralegals alongside health care teams in clinics to work collaboratively to identify and treat health-harming social conditions. Research shows that when patients’ legal problems — such as threatened evictions, wrongful utility shut-offs, insurance disputes, and improper educational supports for children — are solved people with chronic illnesses are admitted to the hospital less frequently, they more commonly take their medications as prescribed, less money is spent on health care services for the people who would otherwise frequently go to the hospital, and clinical services are more frequently reimbursed by public and private payers. This revolutionary approach to social health not only directly impacts the patient, but also the medical facilities’ bottom line.

Leading the statewide initiative, CLSMF has worked closely with the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership, Mallory Curran Consulting, and the executive directors from Florida Legal Services and Legal Services of North Florida. This team of advocates has been working tirelessly to form strong, actionable relationships with healthcare leaders, and to build meaningful engagement of health-related funders to explore MLP implementation in communities throughout the state.

A learning collaborative consisting of participants from 11 legal services agencies throughout the state have participated in monthly web calls with speakers from MLPs nationwide sharing best practices. In addition to monthly web calls, learning collaborative members have also been using the LegalServer case management system to collect additional data from potential clients. This data will be analyzed, and a report on the findings is expected this summer.

On March 8, health care providers and administrators were invited to join a web call with the MLP leadership cohort and two Florida pediatricians involved with MLPs. Opportunities for MLP implementation and obstacles to startup in Florida were among the subjects discussed.

An in-person meeting will be held March 27 in Tampa to bring the learning collaborative together with other legal service providers, and health care providers. The purpose of this meeting is to develop a set of statewide Guiding Principles for the implementation of MLPs in the state. 

Recently, CLSMF received funding to create an MLP with Grace Medical Home in Orlando. Grace Medical Home is a non-profit medical home serving the working, low-income, uninsured residents of Orange County. Christina Russo, MLP Coordinator at CLSMF, has worked with Grace Medical Home to develop a screening tool to identify health-harming social needs in patients, to educate the Grace Medical Home staff on when a legal intervention is appropriate, and a process for referring patients to the MLP similar to referrals to a medical specialist.

Grace Medical Home recently received funding from Orlando Health to provide comprehensive services to high need, high utilizer patients of the hospital, to include wrap around services like MLP.

The CLSMF MLP program began accepting patient referrals from Grace Medical Home on March 1, 2018.

CLSMF continues to look for additional funding opportunities to allow for MLP expansion throughout the 12-county service area, in addition to spearheading the Statewide Coalition of MLPs.