Ballad partners with Appalachian School of Law to prescribe legal services | Latest Headlines
A Ballad Health partnership providing free legal assistance to low-income patients completed its first year in 2021.
Last year, nearly 400 hours of free legal services worth more than $40,000 were provided to Ballad patients as part of the health care system’s new Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) with the Appalachian School of Law (ASL), Virginia Tech and regional legal aids .
Dr. Matthew Loos, chief academic officer at Ballad Health, called the MLP “unique in the nation” from an educational and research perspective.
“Right here in the Appalachian Highlands we are on the tip of the spear when it comes to this type of effort and this type of work,” Loos said. “That really is part and parcel to what the promise of Ballad is, what we want to bring to this region and what we believe the people of this region deserve.”
According to a recent report from the MLP, the program got more than 1,500 referrals from Ballad last year, 120 cases resulting from 251 patient calls, and 81 case closures. That’s according to data analyzed and compiled by a team from Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business. That aspect of the partnership is a distinguishing factor, according to Suzan E. Moore, JD, executive director of MLP at ASL.
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“The thing that really sets our MLP apart from the hundreds of others that are operating across the country is the collaboration with Virginia Tech,” Moore said. “What they brought to the equation is the business analytics.”
According to Moore, Ballad professionals initiated the referrals to the MLP, but it was up to the patient to seek the legal help. According to the report, the majority of legal hours in closed cases were spent on unemployment and financial assistance, with the top two services provided being related to insurance and housing assistance.
“There are some success stories where we have obtained disability awards, Medicaid coverage, child custody in a domestic case,” Moore said. “We look at everything from housing to food assistance to planning documents, like powers of attorney, and landlord-tenant disputes – anything that you can think of that might be a determinant of someone’s social circumstances – meaning food, housing, income, that sort of thing – we assist with.”
According to Moore, the MLP was launched in 2020, but kicked into full gear last year as most referrals came from four hospitals – Norton Community Hospital, Johnston Memorial Hospital, Holston Valley Medical Center and Bristol Regional Medical Center. Services are provided by ASL students under the supervision of their professors and attorneys from the regional legal aids. In general, the partnership is about improving patients’ home settings, which can play as vital a role in health as treatment received, Loos said.
“Having the right surgery, for example, is incredibly important, but if you have that surgery and you go home to an environment (of homelessness) or it’s an environment that doesn’t have clean water or nutritional food – you could be the best surgeon in the world [and still] have real problems with recovery,” Loos said. “We know that this type of effort stretches well beyond just the simple access to social services. It really does have a major impact in the health and well-being of the people that it serves.”
The Ballad-funded MLP is something Moore sees carrying on well into the future.
“Our initial partnership is for five years, but we think it’s going to be so beneficial to all parties concerned that we will have an ongoing and hopefully a permanent partnership among these current groups,” Moore said. “It has come a long way [and] we’ve had some early success, but I really believe that the best is yet to come … It’s something that I think will continue to grow and that will benefit the low-income patient population in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.”
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