MedLaw Partnership of WNY – Making a Difference in People’s Lives

In January 2019, the Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute worked with CELJ to implement a medical-legal partnership that leverages legal expertise and services to address patients’ health-related social needs. This connection helps to address health-harming legal and social problems afflicting vulnerable patients, and often preventing safe or timely discharge to the community.

In its first year, the MedLaw Partnership opened 172 cases for legal advice and representation at Buffalo General. The majority of assistance provided was for Powers of Attorney and Health Care Proxies, which allow a patient to appoint a surrogate or agent to assist with property management, bill pay, and healthcare decisions while the patient is in the hospital or recovering from illness or surgery. Oftentimes, a person’s medical needs impact their ability to earn, access, or maintain income, and to access health insurance benefits, which are critical to receiving care. It’s not surprising therefore, that the second most-often requested legal assistance through the MedLaw Partnership was for income maintenance consultations on health insurance matters.

Paralegal and attorney at desk

Just over 40% of the cases opened were for patients age 60 and older. Nearly a quarter of patients were suffering from a chronic illness, and nearly 20% were homeless or unstably housed. 

Below are two stories that illustrate the impact of the MedLaw Partnership at Buffalo General:

Keeping the Lights on

A chronically ill woman with COPD received notice while hospitalized that her electricity was to be turned off within two days during a cold snap in the weather.  The patient lived with her teenage son and was the sole income provider for the home. She was tearful and fretful that the loss of electricity would result in worsening of her symptoms and she would be re-hospitalized. When she tried to call the utility provider on her own, she was told there was nothing that could be done.  The MedLaw attorney met with the patient and advised her of her legal rights with the utility, particularly in light of her disabling condition.  The MedLaw attorney contacted the utility provider and successfully prevented the electricity shutoff and negotiated the continuance of a payment plan with the utility provider. The patient was successfully discharged home the same day.

Protecting the Vulnerable

A paraplegic patient admitted to the hospital for complex medical needs confessed to the hospital social worker that she was being subjected to horrific physical and emotional abuse by her caregiver, with whom she resided.  Following a referral to the MedLaw Partnership, there was an order of protection in place within 24 hours and the abusive caretaker was arrested. MedLaw Partnership assisted the patient with revoking her Power of Attorney and executing a new one in favor of a new caretaker; explaining her insurance rights with respect to durable medical equipment left in the abusive caretaker’s home; and assisting with civil remedies for financial abuses that had taken place under the care of the abusive caretaker. The patient was discharged to a safe environment and her health has improved significantly since being removed from the abusive and neglectful situation.

The MedLaw Partnership of WNY also operates at Erie County Medical Center. Funding from Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert allows us to provide legal help to all breast cancer patients or survivors, regardless of where they receive their health care.

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