An innovator in compassionate care, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center partnered with The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland in October 2017 to create one of the nation’s first medical-legal partnerships (MLP) to focus on behavioral health and addiction patients in an environment with a Psychiatric Emergency Department and inpatient psychiatric and detoxification units.
Through this partnership, Legal Aid attorneys Michael Russell and Jennifer Kinsley are onsite at St. Vincent Charity to advise and represent patients and to train providers in spotting social determinants of health with potential legal remedies.
Dr. Albana Dreshaj, medical director of St. Vincent Charity Psychiatric Emergency Department, was quick to embrace the collaboration. Upon discharging a patient who suffered the financial fallout of identity theft, Dr. Dreshaj saw St. Vincent Charity providers had treated her psychiatric needs, but the legal issue that triggered her distress — an unexpected cut-off of benefits supporting the family of six — was still unresolved.
Dr. Dreshaj walked the young mother down the hallway to meet Russell, an attorney with a decade of experience in poverty law, who comes from a family of psychiatrists and medical providers.
“I interviewed the client and immediately consulted with a Legal Aid colleague who reached out to her contacts at the Social Security Administration to determine that, despite what the client was told, her benefits were partially restored,” Russell said.
This information brought visible relief to the young mother, who was already making plans to move if she couldn’t pay her rent. Russell continues to work to reverse the deduction in her benefits, while another attorney investigates the identity theft at the root of the problem.
Russell says the interdisciplinary MLP takes a holistic approach to client-patient advocacy that focuses on wellness rather than addressing a single pre-defined legal problem or case.
“I became a Legal Aid lawyer to help vulnerable people where they’re at,” Russell said. “This model helps people.”
In addition to accepting clients from the Psychiatric ED, Russell and Kinsley have assisted homeless patients from Joseph’s Home, drug and alcohol rehabilitation patients from Rosary Hall, Geriatric Psychiatry patients, as well as medical and surgical patients from the St. Vincent Charity Health Care Center.
Kinsley came to Legal Aid after five years as Cleveland Assistant City Prosecutor working on cases for Drug Court, Veteran’s Court, and Mental Health Court. She was drawn to her new role because of the population she serves.
“During my time serving on those specialized dockets, I saw a need to get involved with the behavioral health population and attempt to get them the assistance and connections that they need to keep them out of criminal court and living their best lives,” Kinsley said.
For Kinsley, the most rewarding work has been supporting clients referred from Rosary Hall.
“Whether through legal advice on family reunification, child support, or making sure patients have the public benefits needed to get back on their feet and establish stable residence, we’ve been helping patients in recovery to re-establish their lives in a meaningful and healthy way.” Kinsley said.
The St. Vincent Charity Medical Center and Legal Aid partnership is generously funded by the Jones Day Foundation, Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation and Gund Foundation.