Syracuse MLP – “I love Upstate New York”

When planning an itinerary of Medical-Legal Partnerships to visit in the States I asked an American friend what he knew about Syracuse. “Syracuse!” he responded, and I waited. “My uncle loves Upstate New York.” When the National Centre for MLPs recommended the Syracyse MLP as an exemplar of the movement, I discovered that his uncle wasn’t the only fan of the region – and for good reason.

Dr Steven Blatt and Suzette Melendez outstate Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital

A well established MLP after some seven years of service, Syracuse MLP (SMLP) brings together SUNY Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University College of Law. This collaboration, between both legal and medical teaching facilities, is perhaps its most unique feature. However, the combined forces of Pediatrician Dr Steven Blatt and attorney / law academic Suzette Melendez run a very close second.

“SMLPs mission is to:

  • improve health outcomes for vulnerable patient populations;
  • provide advocacy and legal intervention to prevent health crises for patients caused by non-medical factors;
  • provide multidisciplinary training for law students, medical students and residents;
  • encourage multidisciplinary collaboration between the legal and medical professions;
  • foster a productive relationship between two educational institutions;
  • educate health care providers to identify health-related legal issues and become better advocates for their patients;
  • disseminate information about SMLP’s outcomes and community impact through publication and academic presentations; and
  • cultivate a relationship between the law and medical schools and the greater Syracuse community.

Law students assist with the development and presentation of case conferences and workshops for medical staff to train them to identify patients in need of SMLP services.  These students work alongside the medical team in the medical setting and conduct on-site interviews of patients referred by the medical staff. When legal advocacy or representation is needed, patients are referred to the law school’s clinical education program for assistance.”1

SMLPs success is no doubt drawn in large part from its integration with clinical education programs. But what also impressed me is the passion, insight and experience that both Dr Blatt and Suzette Melendez bring to the table. Separate interviews by me might as well have been with them together – such was the consistency of their considered responses. Their mutual interest and responsibility for the future of the program underlined, again, the critical importance of champions within both the legal/advocacy and medical/health arenas. Champions with passion and influence.

1. Syracuse College of Law Website, Syracuse Medical-Legal Partnership, at http://www.law.syr.edu/academics/center-and-institutes/family-law-and-social-policy/syracuse-medical-legal-partnership.aspx , accessed 2 April 2012.

Peter Noble

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