Wishard Health Services
Medical-Legal Partnership Enhances Multidisciplinary Care, Addresses Social and Environmental Factors
Understanding a patient’s illness is sometimes complicated by problems that require more than what the typical health care provider independently can resolve. To address this, Wishard Health Services implemented the medical-legal partnership (MLP) model, which provides legal aid services to patients at various Wishard sites MLP is aimed at improving health care for patients through a multi-disciplinary approach by utilizing the skills of doctors, lawyers, social workers and educators to improve a patient’s health. The process integrates resources for patients with health care needs requiring social solutions.
“Social elements can have a severe impact on overall health and treatment,” said Anna Obergfell, Associate Counsel, Legal Services, Medical-Legal Partnership Program Director. “There’s more to health than what can be addressed through prescriptions. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be treated.”
Wishard is the largest provider of care to the uninsured in Indiana, with more than 1.2 million outpatient visits each year. Wishard and the Indiana Health Advocacy Coalition teamed up with Baker & Daniels, a private Indianapolis legal firm, to launch the first MLP in Indiana in 2008. Currently, the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and Indiana Legal Services also contribute to the Wishard MLP. All firms provide their services on a pro bono basis and work to provide direct services to patients while they’re on-site at Wishard. The American Bar Association even recently awarded Baker & Daniels LLP with its 2011 Outstanding Pro Bono Advocacy in Medical-Legal Partnership Award for this work. Additionally, the Indianapolis Bar Foundation awarded the Wishard MLP and Baker & Daniels the 2010 Pro Bono Publico Award for its collaborative partnership in providing access to legal aid.
In the last year and a half, approximately 400 referrals have been made by physicians and social workers to Wishard MLP-affiliated attorneys. Physicians and staff receive training on social impacts of health so that they may refer patients to Wishard social workers and attorneys directly, according to Obergfell. MLP-affiliated attorneys then work with patients in the healthcare setting, increasing convenience, comfort and efficiency in helping patients.
Each firm brings its own expertise to the Wishard MLP. Baker & Daniels works most closely with Wishard’s EMBRACE program, which provides supportive and holistic services to women undergoing cancer treatment. Baker & Daniels serves patients by providing end of life legal services.
"As physicians, we recognize the major role that social and environmental factors play in contributing to chronic illness, often impairing our ability to achieve optimal outcomes for our patients," said Dr. Lisa Harris, Wishard’s CEO and medical director. "Through this extraordinary partnership with lawyers who can also serve as powerful patient advocates, we’re able to assist patients in making positive changes that will frequently result not only in improved health but in improved quality of life."
MLP attorneys also work with school systems on a regular basis to advocate for children with special needs or other education-based needs, Obergfell said. The Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and Indiana Legal Services, commonly work with patients on housing conditions, disability benefits, and guardianship matters.
“What’s great is that in many of these cases we end up not only helping the family but helping those around them, too,” said Obergfell, citing housing cases involving mold, rodent infestations, faulty electrical outlets, and apartment violence.
In the fall, the Wishard MLP will partner with Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, as part of the school’s new Health and Human Rights Clinic, according to Obergfell. Through the clinic, law students under faculty supervision will directly represent low-income Wishard patients to increase access to safe and affordable living conditions, public benefits, and consumer products; they will also assist patients with education issues and family law matters to improve overall health and well-being.
For more information, please contact:
Anna Obergfell, JD
Associate Counsel, Legal Services
Medical-Legal Partnership Program Director
Wishard Health Services
Work: (317) 630-6798