The last thing that a hospitalized patient who is battling serious cancer needs is a legal problem. Thanks to a unique medical-legal partnership between Legal Aid of Nebraska and The Nebraska Medical Center, a legal problem, in fact, is the last thing many cancer patients will have to stew about.
The partnership was the brainchild of Kerry Rodabaugh, M.D., associate professor in obstetrics-gynecology for the University of Nebraska Medical Center and a gynecological oncologist at The Nebraska Medical Center who moved to Omaha after practicing in Buffalo, N.Y.
“I found myself taking care of women with recurrrent cervical cancer, and when it’s recurrent, it’s usually terminal,” Dr. Rodabaugh said. “Many of these women were single parents with young children and had no legal arrangements in place for the children.”
So Dr. Rodabaugh pioneered a medical-legal partnership in Buffalo to handle many of the problems cancer patients would encounter: custody issues, powers of attorney, foreclosures and benefit advocacy. So convinced was she of the program’s effectiveness, Dr. Rodabaugh attempted to set up a similar program as soon as she arrived in Omaha. Last year she attended a conference met Legal Aid Executive Director Dave Pantos.
“Dr. Rodabaugh told me about her experience with a successful medical-legal partnership for cancer patients and it made perfect sense that a similar program could work well in Omaha,” Pantos said. “Legal Aid drafted an agreement, which received input from attorney Howard Hahn, working on behalf of The Nebraska Medical Center. Luckily, Hahn is a former president of the Legal Aid board of directors.”
“I think this shows that we’re paying attention to the entire patient,” Rodabaugh said. “We’re not just taking care of cancer with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. We’re addressing everything else that goes into the treatment of the individual.”
The Legal Aid of Nebraska and The Nebraska Medical Center agreement was approved and launched early this summer. A Legal Aid attorney is always available to consult on issues over the phone and visits the hospital and its clinics once a week. There, attorney Ann Mangiameli meets right at the bedside with cancer patients, working them through their legal issues.
So far, both partners consider the process a great success.
“The Nebraska Medical Center is heavily involved and supportive of this program,” Pantos said. “Their social work staff, oncology-hematology department and many other groups are totally invested, and their cancer patients are the ultimate winners.”
Legal Aid Assistant Director Annette Farnan said the partnership has also been positive for Nebraska Medical Center patients from outside of Nebraska, particularly Iowa.
“Many cancer patients come to the medical center from western Iowa, so we brought in Legal Aid of Iowa as an unfunded partner,” Farnan said. “I would not be surprised if the idea catches on so well there that they develop their own medical–legal partnership at Iowa’s top hospitals.”
“It’s a good program for everyone involved,” Farnan added.
Medical-Legal Partnership Benefits Cancer Patients. Legal Aid of Nebraska Briefly. August 2009.