Health & Disability Advocates




Medical-Legal Collaboration at HDA: Preventative Medicine Meets Preventative Law

With generous support from several funders including the Chicago Bar Foundation, the Lawyer’s Trust Fund of Illinois, the Michael Reese Health Trust, the Fry Foundation, and the Community Memorial Foundation, HDA has used its extensive experience in delivering legal services to develop another innovative collaboration. After its initial success with Project Access, the medical-legal-case management collaborative piloted in the NICUs of two Chicago area hospitals, HDA became acutely aware that patients seeking medical care from hospitals often had unmet legal needs. Frequently these legal needs became evident to hospital staff throughout the course of the individual’s medical treatment. Providers consistently reported seeing their patients experience problems such as an inability to access healthcare or a lack of financial resources available to comply with a medical care plan. This compromised not only the patient’s ability to receive essential treatment, but also their healthcare providers’ ability to provide that necessary care. In response to this need for legal services, HDA began working with staff at hospitals throughout Chicago including physicians, nurses, social workers and case managers; to identify those patients who need legal advice and/or representation. The goal was to establish a direct connection with hospital staff so that HDA attorneys could become a resource to both patients and healthcare providers. The result was the medical-legal collaboration.

In an effort to improve patients’ access to healthcare and public benefits, the medical-legal collaboration combines many of the strengths of both the medical and legal services models. When a healthcare provider becomes aware that one of his or her patients is experiencing a legal problem, the medical-legal collaboration provides them with the resources and back-up support necessary to help them facilitate a solution for their patients. Hospital staff can now access HDA attorneys as a resource to get brief legal advice and consultation for their patients. If the legal issue or question is one that can be resolved easily by a phone conversation with attorneys, then the healthcare provider will simply refer their patient to HDA directly for further legal consultation and even representation when necessary. HDA attorneys routinely take on cases referred to them by hospital staff on a range of healthcare and public benefits issues including: SSI, SSDI, Medicaid, KidCare, and DSCC. If the legal issue referred is beyond the scope of HDA's legal services, they will refer the individual to another legal services provider who can assist them.

This innovative legal services model helps to ensure that individuals will be able to access and maintain comprehensive medical services. Its collaborative approach combines traditional medical care with a new outlet for legal advice to help individuals retain the benefits and services necessary for them to follow their medical treatment plans. In addition, healthcare providers now have access to legal resources, something not typically available in a medical care setting. This has helped these providers to learn more about some of the challenges and barriers their patients confront in trying to successfully access the programs and services they need to follow their treatment plans.

The Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children (CMLPC) is HDA's latest medical-legal collaboration. Building off the success of Project Access, the CMLPC is providing onsite legal services to low-income families in the pediatric clinics at University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital and the Friend Family Center; FQHC. For more information about the CMLPC, click here to visit its page on the HDA website.

To learn more about Project Access, the results of its research study or to read its final report, click here to visit the Project Access page on the HDA website.

For more information on medical-legal collaborations at HDA, contact Amy Zimmerman, CMLPC Project Director, at 312-223-9600.

Online Library

HDA has a wide variety of documents related to medical-legal collaborations in our online Materials Library.

Here are some of the valuable resources you'll find there:

HDA Tips Public Benefits Resource Materials

HDA TIPS (formerly known as TAP TIPS) are a public benefits resource guide for case managers, social workers, and healthcare professionals to use in answering questions that they or their clients have about the specific programs and services available to them. This pocket advocacy guide was updated in September, 2008.

Children's Health Policy Report

The 2007 Children's Health Policy Report describes the recent health care expansions for children in Illinois and explains HDA's role in furthering those expansions. In particular, the Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children (CMLPC) has played a key role in identifying systemic barriers to health care coverage for Illinois' children.

Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children Medical Provider Perspective Presentation

This presentation offers the medical provider's perspective on the effectiveness and efficiency of medical-legal collaborations.

Web Resources

HDA also maintains a list of Links with many other websites and online resources on medical-legal collaborations.