The Pamplin College of Business is partnering with the Appalachian School of Law and Ballad Health in a program to help patients who need it get free legal assistance that can lead to better access to health care and improved patient health.

The three organizations have established a medical-legal partnership to offer such services. The program, available now, will be funded in its initial five-year period primarily through annual grants from Ballad to its partners.

A multidisciplinary team from all the partners, along with lawyers representing the Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society and Legal Aid of East Tennessee, will work together to address medical, legal, or social problems that can affect a patient’s overall health.

Pamplin will contribute descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive analytics to track and measure the program’s success, with the aim of turning raw medical and business data into actionable knowledge.

“We anticipate that the results from research conducted through our partnership with Ballad Health and the Appalachian School of Law will document the value of this partnership to the health of people in our region and to its economic well-being,” said Pamplin dean Robert Sumichrast. “The research will also help other parts of the country design medical-legal partnerships that make social and economic sense.”

Quinton Nottingham, an associate professor in Pamplin’s Department of Business Information Technology, will guide a team of Virginia Tech students in data collection, which will be the focus in the first two years, and analysis. The students will develop the intake forms, surveys, and other metrics to evaluate the initiative’s impact on patients, Ballad Health staff, and the communities that Ballad Health serves, Nottingham said.

"In addition to the value of this program to socioeconomically disadvantaged patients in Southwest Virginia and Eastern Tennessee, it will also provide some valuable real-world analytics experience for our students,” he said.

Studies have shown that medical-legal partnerships reduce health care costs and improve the quality of health outcomes. Such partnerships are operating in 49 states, with 450 health provider organizations and 58 law schools participating.

Del. Terry Kilgore, chairman of the Southwest Virginia Health Authority, was instrumental in getting state approval for the partnership. “This partnership will be a great asset for our region,” said Kilgore, who represents the 1st District, comprising the counties of Lee, Scott, and Wise (part) and the city of Norton. “The legal help people receive will make a huge impact on their health.”

Elizabeth A. McClanahan, president and dean of the Appalachian School of Law and a former Virginia Supreme Court justice, said the partnership “brings together the triune synergies of medicine, law, and business to address two critical needs that we can most effectively impact together as one team — improvements in education and health outcomes." (McClanahan, also an adjunct professor at Pamplin and senior advisor to the dean, will be the new CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation in June 2021.)

Alan Levine, chairman and CEO of Ballad Health, said: “As a health system, we’re here not just to treat people when they need care but also to help them improve their overall health in other ways, outside the clinical world. This is about helping people overcome the various obstacles they may have in getting access to healthcare.” Like efforts to promote child literacy or educate families about safety and healthy habits, he said, this partnership “can really make a difference in someone’s health.”

Sen. Todd Pillion, a pediatric dentist whose 40th Senatorial District includes the city of Bristol and such counties as Lee, Scott, and Grayson, said: “Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also given the challenges in the Appalachian Highlands, it’s extremely important that everyone in our region has access to quality health care. Thanks to this partnership, a lot more people will have the opportunity for better care who might otherwise have fallen through the cracks of the system.”

Medical-legal partnerships can:

  • Assist patients in getting emergency financial relief available through unemployment benefits and the CARES Act and in avoiding housing evictions, which have been suspended under federal and state laws. 
  • Help eliminate barriers to patients obtaining lifesaving medications.
  • Assist patients who are disabled from work in obtaining disability benefits, including Medicare or Medicaid coverage.
  • Help patients appeal wrongful insurance coverage denials.
  • Help people with complex conditions avoid repeated trips to the emergency room by helping to secure housing and affordable medicines.
  • Connect patients and families to critical resources that affect health, such as food banks, domestic violence shelters, and suicide prevention assistance.
  • Help recover costs for hospitals, such as by challenging Medicaid coverage denials.

The partnership is also focused on the education and development of the next generation of medical providers and attorneys with specific training in the health, social, and economic environment in the Appalachian Highlands. Participating students and faculty and supervising attorneys have received training on privacy laws and security policies and Ballad’s telehealth system.

If you are a Ballad Health patient or patient guardian/caregiver who is interested in these free legal services, please contact the Appalachian School of Law at intake@asl.edu or 276-244-1289.