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from Campus District: Get To Know: Jennifer Kinsley Smith and Legal Aid’s Medical Legal Partnership

Posted September 20, 2021
3:43 pm

Jennifer Kinsley Smith started her career as a lawyer for the City of Cleveland, where she prosecuted dockets at Cleveland Municipal Court, including specialized treatment courts. While there, she noticed that individuals were being connected to necessary resources only after they had become justice involved. Jennifer realized that this was problematic because it could cause negative collateral consequences. For example, individuals who receive minor misdemeanors or disorderly conduct charges may lose accessibility to jobs. Or a person may be disconnected from Medicaid coverage if they become incarcerated, making it hard to reconnect to medical benefits again after incarceration. Given these adverse consequences, individuals struggle to be successful in the community upon release.

Jennifer came to The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland specifically for the Medical-Legal Partnership with St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, where she hopes to “use the civil legal system to help people avoid the criminal legal system.” Jennifer explains that negative consequences, like unemployment and homelessness, follow criminal convictions and that they are sometimes “unnecessary, and are a direct result of unstable civil legal issues.” This program intercepts challenges individuals face early, and includes everything from social service referrals, food and housing security, to immediate protective orders or divorce filings, and more.

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, which started in 1905, is one of the oldest law firms in Cleveland. It serves low-income individuals, families and communities.  Lawyers represent people on individual cases, and work systemically to resolve issues that are problems for the community.  Cleveland Legal Aid is the largest nonprofit law firm addressing the civil legal needs of Northeast Ohio’s poor and marginalized. Legal Aid serves a five-county service area, with over 100 staff members, including Jennifer, meeting the legal needs of low-income communities.

Medical Legal Partnerships at Legal Aid include St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, as well as MetroHealth and University Hospitals. St. Vincent Charity Medical Center is located within Campus District and was founded in 1865 to serve its surrounding communities with faith-based, high-quality health care. As a result of their own Community Health Needs Assessment, St. Vincent Charity used social determinants of health to identify areas of need, not only for the Central and Campus communities but for Cuyahoga County as a whole. They partnered with Legal Aid Society of Cleveland to open the Medical-Legal Partnership in October of 2017.

The partnership works by first identifying patients who may have a legal need or may want legal assistance. Medical providers and their staff members refer patients to Legal Aid, who then evaluates the referral. Within a few hours, the patient is then contacted, and Legal Aid performs a legal check-up. This check-up helps Legal Aid identify all the areas in which they can provide the patient with legal assistance. The goal is to deliver whole person care. Not only is the immediate legal need addressed, but long-term health harming legal needs are addressed as well.

“In addition to having a legal need, most of our patients also have a need to connect with social services”, says Jennifer. “Just being connected to St. Vincent Charity Medical Center as a patient entitles you to this service, which is free to patients and the individuals in their household.”

The perk of coming to Legal Aid through St. Vincent Charity Medical Center is that the individuals who are referred get connected right away. The Medical-Legal Partnership with St. Vincent has allowed Legal Aid to focus on very vulnerable populations, individually and systemically. This partnership functions thanks to grant funding and the support of the community. We hope this valuable partnership continues long into the future.

In December of 2020, Jennifer was named a ‘Champion of Central’ by the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood. During the pandemic, not only did Jennifer work hard representing patients at St. Vincent, she also advocated to protect the rights of the unhoused on both local and statewide committees, and worked to improve public awareness of social service procedures in light of pandemic shutdowns. Jennifer also co-chairs the reentry committee at Legal Aid, which allows her to focus on the collateral consequences and barriers that individuals face once they’re involved with the criminal justice system.

If you’re interested in learning more or are seeking civil legal assistance, visit Legal Aid’s website,, to apply online for services. You can also apply by phone on weekdays at 888-817-3777 (Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.).  If you are a current patient at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, you can speak with your provider about being referred to the Medical-Legal Partnership.


Read original story at Campus District: Get To Know: Jennifer Kinsley Smith and Legal Aid’s Medical Legal Partnership — Campus District


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