Program aims to aid medically vulnerable, low-income residents

Issue July 2011 By Jennifer Rosinski

The Massachusetts Bar Association and the Medical-Legal Partnership Massachusetts network have joined forces to create a new program, the MBA Pro Bono Prescription. The pioneering initiative brings together volunteer attorneys and medical professionals to promote the health and well-being of low-income patients through legal advocacy.

"The MBA is particularly pleased and proud of this joint venture between the MBA and Medical-Legal Partnerships in Massachusetts. Medical-legal partnerships serve a critical role in providing services to residents whose health is impacted by social and environmental factors," said MBA Vice President Jeffrey N. Catalano, a partner at Todd & Weld LLP in Boston. "Through this program, MBA volunteers can strengthen health care teams and support low-income patients by lending their expertise and service in such legal areas as substandard housing and domestic violence matters."

The House of Delegates, the MBA's governing body, unanimously passed a resolution in January endorsing MLPs, which laid the ground for creating the partnership. The MBA's support follows approval from the American Medical Association, which passed a similar resolution aimed at the medical profession in June 2010. The American Bar Association passed a resolution endorsing the expansion of medical-legal partnerships throughout the legal profession four years ago.

"It is well established that many health problems are created or exacerbated by unmet legal needs, and this program seeks to increase the supply of lawyers who can be 'prescribed' as part of the treatment plan for our commonwealth's most vulnerable patients," said Medical-Legal Partnership | Boston Executive Director Samantha J. Morton.

The MBA Pro Bono Prescription will support patients by providing direct legal services to them - services triggered by referrals from health care teams to the local MLP site. Each local MLP site, most often housed with a local or regional legal services organization, will serve as the connector between the health care team, the volunteer attorney and the patient.

The program's first open house was hosted June 21 by Mirick, O'Connell, DeMallie & Lougee LLP in Worcester and co-sponsored by the MBA, Family Advocates of Central Massachusetts (FACM) and Medical-Legal Partnership | Boston, the founding site of the national MLP Network.

"Since 2003, FACM has been partnering with health care providers to address the social and environmental factors that negatively impact health," FACM Legal Director Valerie Zolezzi-Wyndham said. "Over the past eight years, the need for FACM's services has increased beyond the program's capacity. The MBA Pro Bono Prescription provides an exciting opportunity to expand FACM's collaborative model to better meet the needs of the low-income population of Worcester County."