Legal help offers children healthier futures

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 2/14/2020, 6 a.m.
One silver lining for a parent with a child being treated at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth …
Dr. Kimbrough

One silver lining for a parent with a child being treated at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University is access to free legal services.

Take Takia Grant, whose year-old child is being treated for cerebral palsy. Her child’s already fragile health was compromised further by living in a rat-infested rental complex, according to Ms. Grant and her child’s pediatrician, Dr. Tiffany N. Kimbrough.

When the landlord would not deal with the rodents and the smell in her unit that was making her child even sicker, Dr. Kimbrough referred Ms. Grant, who could not afford an attorney, for help. The hospital enlisted its partner, McGuire Woods, one of Richmond’s biggest law firms.

“Within a month, the attorney got us out of the apartment and into a new one,” Ms. Grant said. “She even got my rent reduced at the new apartment to match what I was paying before. Having somebody to help me made my life so much easier.”

The hospital reports that the Medical-Legal Partnership program that launched in January 2018 has assisted 400 families with advice and representation in the first 24 months.

Ms. Held

Ms. Held

And now, the program is being expanded to serve more families as additional attorneys come on board.

McGuire Woods is teaming up with Dominion Energy’s legal team to make 50 more volunteer attorneys available to aid families with legal matters that can affect the health of their children and to offer services to some adult patients, the hospital stated.

Allison Held, the hospital’s associate general counsel and director of the partnership, said the additional attorneys would extend the program to families of young patients at VCU’s Virginia Treatment Center for Children and at the pediatric hospital’s Brook Road campus, along with adult patients at VCU Health’s Complex Care Clinic.

“This partnership is a game changer for us,” Ms. Held said. “It will enable us to serve more patients with legal needs who have nowhere else to turn. That’s what this partnership is about — improving community health through legal advocacy.”

Areas of assistance include evictions, substandard housing and other aspects of housing law; immigrant access to health care; and guardianship, domestic violence and other family law issues, the hospital stated.

Attorneys also will draw up simple wills, powers of attorney and advance medical directives for adults and get involved with issues that disabled children can face in school, including securing individual educational plans and bullying.

The program began with support from McGuire Woods, as well as lawyers from the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society and CancerLINC, with the two nonprofits helping families obtain health and public benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps and to deal with financial challenges such as garnishments, unpaid bills and bankruptcy filings, the hospital stated.

The target families have low to moderate incomes, with household incomes that are 80 percent or less of the regional median income, the hospital noted. According to the census, roughly half the area’s families would be eligible based on income.

The legal help is essential, Dr. Kimbrough said.

“Imagine a child living with asthma and there is a mold problem. This could be life-threatening,” she said. “We now have legal partners to help take care of the whole child and family.

“This legal program helps with everything from wheelchair ramps, custody and child support issues to educational advocacy,” Dr. Kimbrough said, “enabling us to better ensure that every child we see has the opportunity for a healthier future.”