St. Peter’s Health Partners (SPHP) in New York’s Capital Region recognized how patients with serious medical conditions often encounter legal problems that present barriers to their recovery. For example, patients with advanced cancer may need legal assistance relating to benefits, housing, employment, wills, advance directives, custody and more. To address this growing need, SPHP last year joined with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York and Albany Law School to form a Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP). The SPHP MLP offers free legal services to low-income patients with qualifying health-related legal problems. Drawing on the design and experience of MLPs elsewhere across the country, (see http://medical-legalpartnership.org/), the SPHP MLP established formal rules regarding eligible patients, eligible legal problems, and the referral and acceptance process.
The SPHP MLP just celebrated its first anniversary. Over the past year, the program’s on-site attorney, Alexis Kutski, Esq., has provided legal services for dozens of patients, and her caseload is steadily growing. Ms. Kutski is employed by Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York. In some recent cases, she helped a seriously ill patient secure government benefits, helped another secure insurance benefits, and assisted another with compelling a landlord to make modifications to the patient’s apartment. She helped a dying patient retain visitation of her child, and assisted another in completing paperwork to donate her body to science. The on-site attorney is backed by the staff and expertise of the entire Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, a comprehensive anti-poverty civil legal services program. If Ms. Kutski is not able to handle a matter, it may be referred to one of her LASNNY colleagues. Patients may also be referred to the Albany Law Clinic & Justice Center at Albany Law School.
Catherine Adams, M.D., a palliative care physician with SPHP, said: “I look at our MLP as a critical resource for palliative care patients. In some cases, legal services can lift a great burden from patients, and lead to big improvement in their health.”
The New York State Department of Health offers a certification for “Health-related legal services program” (PHL Section 22). The SPHP MLP plans to file for that certification this year.
For more information, contact Alexis Kutski at aKutski@Lasnny.org.