The support has allowed the program to grow from helping 18 families in 2018 to helping 90 in 2019.

Imagine having to choose between groceries and your daughter’s asthma medicine. Imagine having a son who is dependent on a ventilator, and losing health insurance for him 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, when you realize you should seek custody — but you don't know where to turn for help.

For families at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), there is help. CHOP’s Medical Legal Partnership (MLP) makes lawyers part of the healthcare team. 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 started 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.

Partnership with Community Legal Services

Now, lawyers from Community Legal Services, who have partnered with CHOP since 2018, are available at CHOP’s Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pediatric Care Center in West Philadelphia four days a week to consult with any family that needs them. This service — provided at no cost to families — has been supported by philanthropic partner Reed Smith, a law firm that also provides pro bono support on families’ cases; CHOP’s Breakthrough Fund; TD Charitable Trust; the Independence Foundation; and the Philadelphia Health Partnership.

The lawyers help appeal decisions about food stamps (SNAP), address predatory lending, represent tenants in housing matters involving substandard conditions and more.

Legally Blind Baby Denied SSI

Camren For Camren, now a curious, active 14-monthold who loves to dance, MLP attorneys managed the appeal for his Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Camren was born with dense cataracts on both eyes. Even after two surgeries to remove the cataracts, he remains legally blind and therefore was eligible for SSI, an income supplement for people with disabilities who have limited income and resources. However, the first application on his behalf was denied.

That’s when the MLP lawyer, Jen Burdick, got involved. Burdick, who is experienced in these types of appeals, gathered the necessary paperwork, and included a letter from Camren’s CHOP ophthalmologist, Monte D. Mills, MD.

Maximizing Visual Potential

“It’s important children with severe visual impairment have access to services that enable them to maximize whatever visual capacity they have,” Mills says. “This is especially important for young children because the neurological part of the vision system won’t develop properly if the eyes are not providing sensory information.

It would be a shame for a child not to have access to what he needs and what his family needs.

With the help of the MLP, Camren’s appeal was successful and he began receiving SSI benefits. The extra income ensures that Camren receives the interventions and therapies that will help him reach his full visual potential. “Camren has achieved his goal of walking toward objects,” his mother says, “so he’s ready to move on to the next step!”

Next Steps

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