A successful medical-legal partnership launched by McGuireWoods and Dominion Energy in collaboration with VCU Health to help low-income patients and families in the Richmond, Virginia, area will be honored with the 2022 Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) Pro Bono Partner Award from Pro Bono Institute (PBI). The national award recognizes innovative pro bono partnerships between law firms, in-house legal departments and public interest organizations.
VCU Health identified the need for a system to address patients’ legal needs and started the medical-legal partnership (MLP) in 2018. A year later, VCU Health approached McGuireWoods and Dominion Energy for help expanding the program to serve additional patient populations. The collaboration enabled the MLP to bolster services across the VCU Health footprint, more than doubling the number of patients served.
The MLP enables VCU Health doctors and social workers to refer patients to McGuireWoods and Dominion Energy lawyers for assistance with critical legal services. Lawyers intervene to address social causes of health concerns, such as unlawful evictions, poor housing conditions, family law and immigration status. Lawyers also help children and families advocate for students in school and help with planning documents needed to facilitate patient care, such as adult guardianships and wills.
The need for this type of partnership arose as poverty intensified, immigration increased, healthcare funding and benefits grew more complex, and access to legal aid diminished. As a result, many patients went to a hospital or clinic with medical problems while burdened with complications regarding immigration status, healthcare eligibility, housing and basic legal problems that affect healthcare authorization and impede treatment.
More than 110 McGuireWoods and Dominion Energy lawyers have volunteered for the MLP since its launch. Volunteers have assisted more than 75 VCU Health patients and their families, and McGuireWoods and Dominion Energy are handling more than 50 active MLP cases for patients and their families.
MLP lawyers helped a patient in VCU Health’s Complex Care Clinic enroll in Richmond’s eviction diversion program and remain safely at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. They helped an elementary school student with significant disabilities receive necessary services and accommodations through his individualized education plan. And they helped a client obtain Medicaid eligibility for a life-saving organ transplant.
“We know there often is a direct correlation between an individual’s health and the need for legal services,” said McGuireWoods Chairman Jonathan Harmon, who has volunteered to assist MLP clients. “We are proud to partner with Dominion Energy and VCU Health on this important community initiative, which produces life-changing results for neighbors in need.”
Said Carlos Brown, Dominion Energy’s senior vice president, general counsel and chief compliance officer: “Service is a critical pillar of the Dominion Energy ethos. At bottom, our goal as a company and law department is to make things better. I am proud of our partnership with McGuireWoods and VCU Health in their work to make lives better for VCU's most vulnerable patients."
Allison Held, associate general counsel and director for the MLP at VCU Health, added: “We recognize that circumstances outside our clinic walls, such as a lack of food, unstable housing or children not getting the support they need at school can have a profound effect on patient health. Adding lawyers to our healthcare teams made sense. We are thrilled to have many amazing partners, such as McGuireWoods and Dominion Energy, to provide this service to our patients and families.”
The honor marks the second time in three years that McGuireWoods has been recognized with PBI’s CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award. In 2020, PBI presented the Award to Charlotte Triage, a groundbreaking partnership created by McGuireWoods and corporate law departments to support local legal aid organizations.