Lawyers on the team Imagine having a son who is dependent on a ventilator, and losing your health insurance because your new job means your income is slightly too high to qualify.

Imagine taking care of your four grandchildren and struggling to pay for food, while also realizing you should seek custody — and not knowing where to turn for help.

Now, families at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have somewhere to turn. CHOP’s Medical Legal Partnership (MLP) makes lawyers part of the healthcare team.

If a parent has to choose between groceries or medication, if they are living without heat or electricity, if they are living in unsafe lodging, then their child’s health will suffer. Sometimes legal intervention is needed to address factors such as lack of heat, unstable housing, improperly denied benefits or insufficient income to buy healthy food. A combination of medical and legal expertise results in healthier kids and families.

The MLP has helped more than 400 patients since its inception in 2015 as a pilot for kidney patients who require dialysis. Many of their families struggle with challenges related to housing, insurance and other issues that profoundly affect chronically ill children. Once a week, University of Pennsylvania Law School students come to CHOP to consult with dialysis families at the same time as their medical appointments.

The MLP also includes lawyers at CHOP’s Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pediatric Care Center in West Philadelphia. Two days a week, lawyers from Community Legal Services are on-site. This service is supported by CHOP’s philanthropic partner Reed Smith, a law firm that also provides pro bono support for families.

The lawyers help appeal decisions about food stamps, address predatory lending, represent tenants in housing matters involving substandard conditions and more. All services are at no cost to the family.

“Having a lawyer on-site to meet directly with our families addresses some of the core barriers many face getting the help and support they need,” says social worker Leigh Wilson, MSW, LSW, senior program manager, PolicyLab/Division of Social Work. “The MLP is a perfect example of a way to provide meaningful support to families while they are in the pediatrician’s office.”