Ever since he came into the world two months ahead of schedule, Isaac Campbell, 13, has needed specialized health care, and when Florida Medicaid cut off his benefits, it didn’t take long before his family could no longer afford his therapies or nursing.
“No matter who you called or who you mailed a letter to or what channel you tried to get advice from, you got nowhere fast,” said Isaac’s mother, Brandie Campbell.
But because Isaac’s health-care provider participates in the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership (NFMLP), he and his family soon found an ally who accomplished what they’d found impossible. Katy DeBriere, a lawyer at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) who serves as the partnership’s managing attorney, advocated for Isaac and got his Medicaid benefits restored.
“Katy was able to get through the channels that we as parents were not able to get through,” Campbell said. “When you say you have an attorney to assist you and the backing of legal aid to help you, doors seem to open up, and things that you couldn’t make happen magically happen for you.”
Isaac, who got his nursing care back and has been able to resume physical, occupational and speech therapy, is one of about 200 children a year served by the NFMLP, through which doctors, hospitals and clinics collaborate with JALA staff attorneys and pro bono lawyers to ensure children’s health-care and daily living needs are met.
“As health-care providers, we have seen the incredibly positive impact the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership has had on our pediatric patients and their families,” said Dr. Jerry A. Bridgham, chief medical officer of Wolfson Children’s Hospital. “The service Katy DeBriere and her colleagues and the pro bono attorneys provide is absolutely invaluable, and we need to invest in it so that it will always be there. Because the need, unfortunately, will always be there.”
Wolfson Children’s is part of the NFMLP along with Nemours Children’s Specialty Care of Jacksonville, UF Health Specialty Pediatric Clinics, and Community PedsCare, a pediatric program of Community Hospice & Palliative Care and the provider that referred Isaac to JALA. Partnership member Baptist Health has pledged $1.25 million toward an endowment set up to fund the NFMLP. Baptist will provide a 125-percent match on $1 million JALA plans to raise over the next five years, resulting in a total endowment of $2.25 million.
“What our friends at Baptist are doing to ensure this partnership continues is a huge gift to the children of our community,” DeBriere said. “And we are really proud to have earned their trust by demonstrating just how critical civil legal aid is to children and their families when they are struggling with health challenges and a lack of financial resources at the same time.”
The legal services provided through the NFMLP include help accessing health insurance and other public benefits, family law advocacy, consumer protection, assistance with immigration issues, and advocacy related to ensuring safe and affordable housing.
“Our role in the partnership is to remove legal and economic barriers to a child’s wellness,” said JALA President and CEO Jim Kowalski. “That in turn allows the family to focus on the child’s medical, psychological and emotional needs. At the same time, it allows the health-care team to do what they do best and not have to worry about things that are beyond their control. Our job is to fix as many of those things as we can.” Nancy Kinnally