The State of California has selected the Medical-Legal Partnership for Seniors Clinic (MLPS) as a finalist in its “Let’s Get Healthy California Innovation Challenge.”
The Innovation Challenge honors 23 community-based health initiatives that are at the forefront of furthering the state’s goals of “better health, better care and lower cost in California.” The MLPS, which provides pro bono legal services to low-income seniors in partnership with the UCSF Medical Center’s geriatric programs and the San Francisco VA Medical Center, was recognized for its innovative approach to promoting geriatric health.
One of three honorees in the competition’s “End of Life” category, the MLPS clinic is a case study in the synergy between the provision of holistic legal services and medical care, and the practical training law students can receive when given the opportunity to gain experience through community outreach. UCSF medical staff members refer their patients to the MLPS when they identify potential legal issues during conversations with them. The patients, who are often leery of lawyers and unaware they even have legal needs, are more likely to accept assistance if their trusted doctor recommends they consult with the law students. The fact that the seniors can receive free legal services on-site at the medical clinic or in their homes eliminates two additional barriers – their inability to afford lawyers and the physical distance they’d have to overcome if they were to seek a lawyer on their own.
The Innovation Challenge honor is an important milestone for MLPS, which has received almost 300 referrals since its launch in 2012. “Our selection confirms that the healthcare community is taking notice of the significance of the day-to-day social and economic pressures on people’s health, especially for vulnerable populations, and recognizing that promoting good health is so much more than just providing medicine and medical care,” said MLPS legal director Yvonne Troya.
The law students serve as the primary advocates for people of very diverse backgrounds and legal needs. “Students are also learning about reflective lawyering,” said Troya. “They’re working with older adults and at some point it hits home that their parents will become (or are) older adults, and that they, too, will get older. The inevitability of aging becomes very real.”
3L Kyle Walker participated in the clinic last fall. His interests in health law, estate planning and public benefits made him a perfect fit for the MLPS program, which focuses on all of those areas. “Our clients are hard-working members of the community who would not otherwise receive the legal services we provide. Over the course of the semester it became apparent that all the time and energy we put into the complex needs of our clients made a difference in their lives.”
Clara Kuter is an enthusiastic client. Last fall, Walker and 2L Elina Protich assisted her with several legal matters. “My doctor introduced me to the students, who helped me from A to Z with my advanced healthcare directive. I saw them every two weeks and they were magnificent. They have so much passion!”
“The clinic taught me that lawyers are not just legal research machines. Clients trust us to represent their wants, thoughts and feelings, and to help them during difficult times in their lives,” said Protich, who gained confidence in her lawyering skills as she helped her clients with their legal matters.
The 23 awardees will discuss their initiatives at the state’s Innovation Conference in Sacramento on January 26. Sarah Hooper, the UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science & Health Policy’s executive director, will represent the MLPS and the Consortium at the event.
About the UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science & Health Policy
As law and science continue to overlap, lawyers, scientists, and medical professionals must be able to navigate both worlds fluently. Founded with this vision in mind, the Consortium bridges two leading institutions by utilizing education, research, and clinical training and service.
Established in 2008, the Consortium has developed and supported collaborative educational and professional opportunities for students and faculty at UCSF and UC Hastings.