Medical-Legal Partnerships: A Physician’s Perspective

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April, 2011 — Dr. Eleanor Gottesman, who practices pediatrics and child psychiatry at MetroHealth’s Buckeye Community Health Center, collaborates with Legal Aid attorney Shelly Anarado. Dr. Gottesman believes that having a Legal Aid attorney on-site at MetroHealth is crucial.

Recently, Dr. Gottesman had a patient whose SSI benefits had been terminated. The little girl was born several months premature and as a result had developmental disabilities, severe asthma and other health problems. Her mother was worried because she had just two days to apply for continuation of benefits and appeal the decision.

Shelly Anarado, Esq.

Ms. Anarado observes, “It was easy for Dr. Gottesman to walk three steps to my office. The mother had all the paperwork, and Dr. Gottesman had the medical records. I was able to pull up the Social Security website, put in the information and print out a confirmation for continuation of benefits.” Ms. Anarado later helped the clients win the appeal.

Other issues routinely faced by the CAP team include school systems’ reluctance to test for disabilities, inadequate Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), and disregard for expulsion or suspension rules related to IEPs.

Notes Ms. Anarado, “It’s about empowering the parents – so the next time, if there is a next time, they know the rules. We are all driving for the same goal – the school district, Legal Aid and MetroHealth – to get the children the education they are entitled to.”

Dr. Gottesman further illustrates how the medical-legal partnership between MetroHealth and Legal Aid has changed the way she and her colleagues practice medicine. Constrained by a fifteen minute well-child exam, pediatricians can easily overlook indicators of developmental or learning disabilities in patients.

After collaborating with Legal Aid attorneys, pediatricians at MetroHealth’s Buckeye Health Center developed a standard questionnaire which they incorporated into their exams. The practice led to a 20% increase in the identification of learning or developmental disabilities, which, as Dr. Gottesman observes, “was a barometer that let us know how far off track we were.” This, in turn, allows the Buckeye pediatricians to refer more patients to Legal Aid.

Says Dr. Gottesman, “We now have a process, and I don’t know if we would have started that project if we couldn’t have done anything with the results.”

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