January 14, 2008

Wishard Medical-Legal Partnership To Improve Health Care Resources

Wishard Health Services and Baker & Daniels LLP, with the Indiana Health Advocacy Coalition, Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and Indianapolis Legal Aid Society, have announced the launch of the Wishard Medical-Legal Partnership for Patient Health, a new program aimed at improving health care in Indianapolis by pooling resources provided by doctors, lawyers, social workers and academics.

The program is currently open for Wishard pediatric patients after being launched on Tuesday, January 8, at Wishard Memorial Hospital. The idea behind the new partnership is that sometimes a patient's illness is caused by a problem that a lawyer can resolve more easily than a health care provider.

To take a common example, a child with chronic asthma may come in for treatment, only to return to an environment filled with conditions that make his or her asthma worse, such as mold, old carpet or cockroaches. When there is a medical-legal partnership in place, the doctor can call upon an attorney to intervene with the landlord and get the substandard conditions cleaned up. The result is better health for the patient.

"As physicians, we recognize the major role that social and environmental factors play in contributing to chronic illness, often impairing our ability to achieve optimal outcomes for our patients," said Dr. Lisa E. Harris, chief executive officer and medical director for Wishard Health Services. "Through this partnership with lawyers who can serve as powerful patient advocates, we can assist patients in making positive changes that will frequently result in an improvement not only in their health but in their overall quality of life."

Baker & Daniels, the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society will provide pro bono legal services to patients based on referrals from the program coordinator, who is also a lawyer. The Indiana Health Advocacy Coalition will provide evaluation services and technical support.

"I am thrilled that Baker & Daniels helped initiate this program," said Chad Priest, a lawyer with Baker & Daniels who helped spearhead the project. "We are acting as a problem-solving, resource providing institution for the Indianapolis community, and I think that is very exciting. We are the only law firm of our size willing and poised to be heavily involved in this type of program, and it is our hope that other firms in the area will become motivated after seeing how law can improve health care in Indianapolis."

Unlike similar programs around the United States, the partnership has no socioeconomic requirement for service and is funded internally. The program plans to expand outside of Wishard's pediatric service to other branches of the hospital.

"Wishard is always looking for innovative ways to improve patient care," said Jessica Barth, vice president of Legal Affairs and chief counsel for Wishard Health Services. "The Wishard Medical-Legal Partnership is a way for physicians, nurses and social workers to team up with attorneys in the community to solve problems that impact our pediatric patients' health."

Founded in 1863, Baker & Daniels LLP is one of Indiana's largest law firms. With more than 370 lawyers and consulting professionals, Baker & Daniels serves clients in regional, national and international transactional, regulatory and litigation matters from offices in Indiana, Washington, D.C. and China.

For nearly 150 years, Wishard Health Services has provided high quality, cost-effective health care to the citizens of Marion County. Accredited by the Joint Commission, Wishard has nationally recognized programs, including Midtown Community Mental Health Center, IU National Center of Excellence in Women's Health, a Level I trauma center, senior care program, comprehensive stroke program and regional burn center. Wishard Health Services is the public hospital division of the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, and Indiana University School of Medicine physicians provide a comprehensive range of primary and specialty care services.

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