The Association of American Medical Colleges’ online magazine reports on the impact of medical-legal partnership in Indianapolis, Atlanta and Washington D.C., and a learning cohort that is collecting data on how MLPs address health inequities.
By Kim Krisberg
A pediatric patient is on cardiopulmonary bypass and will die without a heart transplant. Doctors have the medical knowledge and skill to treat the patient, but that is not enough. To save the child’s life, they need the help of a lawyer.
Although a heart transplant was desperately needed, the child did not qualify for the transplant list because of an unstable home situation where appropriate post-transplant care would have been impossible. The scenario—which took place at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta—illustrates how even the best medical care in the world can be ineffective in the face of seemingly intractable social determinants. Fortunately, the physicians in Atlanta had access to the Health Law Partnership, or HeLP, a powerful collaboration of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia State University College of Law, and the Atlanta Legal Aid Society that began in 2004. An attorney quickly stepped in, securing an emergency legal arrangement that shifted custody from the child’s mother to the grandparents, who were capable of providing post-surgical care. The child got on the transplant list and received a new heart.
“It’s no stretch to say that [medical-legal partnerships] are saving people’s lives,” said Robert Pettignano, MD, MBA, medical director of HeLP and a professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine.