Suzanne*, now 56, didn’t start drinking heavily until she was in her mid-40s. Like many people, Suzanne lost her job during the Great Recession in the late 2000s. A college degree and long-term experience in the health care and insurance industries weren’t enough to save her from becoming a statistic as tens of millions of jobs were lost across the country. She turned to alcohol for solace.
As alcohol dependency gripped her tighter, she realized she needed help. She drifted in and out of alcohol treatment programs, getting sober briefly each time before returning to drinking. She was arrested for the first time at the age of 50, which is also around the time her family stopped speaking to her. She was arrested two more times, including for a DUI. Suzanne soon became serious about breaking her dependency, and entered a treatment program last winter at Rosary Hall at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center.
While at Rosary Hall, she met with an attorney from The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland because she was concerned about debt. The attorney, Jennifer Kinsley, and fellow attorney Michael Russell, are onsite at St. Vincent Charity as part of a unique medical-legal partnership (MLP) that provides free services to advise and represent patients and train providers in spotting social determinants of health with potential legal remedies. St. Vincent Charity’s MLP program was the first of its kind in Ohio to focus solely on the needs of those in treatment for behavioral health and addiction diseases.
Kinsley conducted a legal check-up, which uncovered multiple issues that Legal Aid could address to help Suzanne stay focused on her treatment program.
“We were able to open five cases for her. We resolved issues for her evaluating her for bankruptcy, food assistance eligibility, social security benefits, Medicare claims and criminal record sealing of misdemeanor offenses,” said Kinsley. “Five criminal convictions were sealed, giving her a fresh start to take steps to get back to the profession she loves.”
Suzanne said she didn’t know what to expect from the Legal Aid attorneys. “I thought I had one issue, but didn’t realize how much work Jennifer would do. She was fabulous and really wanted to help me,” said Suzanne. “She didn’t look at me like just another drunk.”
Legal Aid represented Suzanne by drafting and filing record sealing motions on all of her cases. Legal Aid represented her at the hearing before the judge where the record was sealed following testimony about how she had been rehabilitated and what her future goals were. Within two weeks after the hearing, her convictions were removed from electronic databases.
Suzanne successfully completed the Rosary Hall program and is voluntarily staying at a sober living home, which she said she plans to do for the next two years while trying to get a job and returning to “some kind of normalcy.” She volunteers at a local hospital once a week helping guide patients to their destinations, with the hope that it could lead to a fulltime job back in the health care field.
“These legal services are tremendously valuable to clients in recovery because they often don’t realize the severe legal issues that accrued during their substance-use period. They may have issues with public benefits termination or denial, custody, child support, debt, housing and criminal records that can be corrected,” said Kinsley. “Recovery is much easier to sustain when life outside of treatment is stable, and that is where we step in to navigate the path with the client.”
Suzanne said she doesn’t know where she would be without the help of Rosary Hall or Legal Aid. “I thought my life was ruined and I had lost everything. St. Vincent Charity was the best program of all that I did. The counselors really did care. And Jennifer at Legal Aid made me feel reborn, like I could do anything.”
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.
*Name has been changed