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Helping patients cope with legal issues

A special legal clinic between Syracuse University and Upstate University Hospital that assists Upstate patients with free legal assistance expects to see more cases than ever by the end of the year. The faltering economy is causing an increase in issues that might benefit from the attention of a lawyer.

“We’re dealing with an increase in issues related to renter’s rights, financial matters, living wills, or power of attorney and child custody cases,” said Courtny Osterling, a staff attorney for the Syracuse-Medical Legal Partnership (SMLP).  “I think the economy is exacerbating many of these issues.”

Each year, close to 200 patients at Upstate University Hospital receive much-needed legal assistance—free of charge—from the partnership between the Syracuse University College of Law and Upstate.

The program began in 2004 and it recently expanded its reach by offering services to inpatients as well as outpatients.  This program was one of the first in upstate New York and is one of the only medical-legal partnerships in the country based in both a medical school and law school.

“It’s amazing to me how many of my patients have had their healthcare negatively affected by legal issues,” said  Steven Blatt, MD, a pediatrician at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital.

“The Syracuse Medical Legal Partnership has already assisted hundreds of our families and has become an indispensable part of the healthcare team.”

Dr. Blatt said the program has helped educate healthcare providers to identify health-related legal issues and become better advocates for their patients.  “We may be able to calm the symptoms. But if the source of the anxiety that affects a patient’s health remains unchecked, we’re really not putting the patient on the road to good health.”

Should a caregiver learn that a patient is facing a legal issue that may impair their health or outcome, an attorney from the program will meet with them one-on-one and offer their services.  All cases are handled by SMLP until complete – be it before discharge or well after.

To learn more about SMLP, call Staff Attorney Courtny Osterling at 443-5098.

Caption: Key players in the Syracuse Medical-Legal Partnership that provides free legal assistance to Upstate University Hospital patients are attorney Courtny Osterling of the Syracuse University College of Law, and pediatrician Steven Blatt, MD.

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