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July 21, 2010 3:13 PM

Pro Bono 2010: Bridging the Divide

Posted by Terry Baynes

In May a group of attorneys from Baker & Daniels spent the afternoon at Wishard Memorial Hospital in Indianapolis. They toured the infusion clinic where patients receive chemotherapy, met with a social worker, and received tuberculosis skin tests, a prerequisite for working with patients. The attorneys are volunteers with EMBRACE, a program that provides holistic services to female cancer patients. The lawyers, working out of the hospital's clinic, help patients draw up guardianship and estate-planning documents.

The pro bono work is the latest initiative from the Medical-Legal Partnership, a project launched by the Indiana Health Advocacy Coalition (IHAC) in January 2008. The Medical-Legal Partnership operates at three hospitals in Indianapolis and consists of a multidisciplinary team of doctors, lawyers, nurses, public health professionals, and social workers that collaborate on individual patients' needs. Patients can sign waivers that permit open communication among the different professionals.

Anna Obergfell, the director of the Wishard Medical-Legal Partnership and a former Baker & Daniels summer associate, reached out to the firm's Women's Forum in the spring. Thirteen attorneys from the forum signed on as volunteers.

"Participants are much more aware that patient advocacy does not just mean medical treatment," says Baker & Daniels pro bono director Brita Horvath. "Legal advocacy can improve medical outcomes, often in a way that's faster and cheaper." The partnership focuses on treating the patient as a whole, with the attorney becoming part of the patient's treatment team.

Baker & Daniels lawyers attend doctor-lawyer training sessions. They field referrals on cases involving immigration, housing conditions such as mold or bug infestation, end-of-life preparation, guardianship, and public benefits. In December 2008 the firm helped an undocumented resident get heat in her apartment. She was relying on a small space heater to provide warmth for herself and her children.

"We went out and took pictures of the place," says Horvath. "It was terrible." After lawyers intervened, the landlord cooperated in making the necessary improvements. (In 2009, six Baker & Daniels attorneys volunteered with the Medical-Legal Partnership, donating 306 hours.)

Medical-legal partnerships have recently caught the national spotlight. On June 15 the American Medical Association (AMA) passed a resolution encouraging physicians to collaborate with lawyers, social workers, and nurses to improve their patients' well-being. That same day, the American Bar Association issued a statement in support of the AMA's resolution.


THE STATS

Baker & Daniels ranked 155th on this year's Pro Bono Report. Firm lawyers performed an average of 19.7 pro bono hours in 2009; 23.7 percent of the firm's U.S.-based lawyers contributed 20 or more hours.


CLICK HERE to access the Pro Bono Report 2010 from the July/August issue of The American Lawyer.

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