Fordham Law

Mississippi’s First-Ever Medical-Legal Partnership to empower people living with HIV/AIDS

Marni von Wilpert '11 in Mississippi Center for Justice, May 30, 2013

Media Source

Earlier this month, the Mississippi Center for Justice and the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) announced a medical-legal partnership to provide free civil legal services to people living with HIV/AIDS. The collaboration—which includes a joint agreement with the Center, UMMC, the Mississippi State Department of Health’s Crossroads Clinics Central and the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation—marks the first-ever medical-legal partnership in the state of Mississippi.
Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm, will provide on-site legal assistance at the Crossroads Clinics Central to people living with HIV/AIDS. The legal assistance will focus primarily on HIV-status-related discrimination in housing and employment.
“We are thrilled to announce this effort with the University of Mississippi Medical Center to protect important legal rights,” said Marni von Wilpert, Skadden Legal Fellow at the Mississippi Center for Justice. “In the face of employment and housing discrimination, HIV/AIDS patients often lack access to legal resources. This program will help ensure they are treated fairly so they can lead productive, fulfilling lives.”

Dr. Claude Brunson, UMMC professor of anesthesiology and senior advisor to the vice chancellor for external affairs, said the partnership is important because it addresses one of the last barriers to making sure people with HIV/AIDS can reintegrate into society in a productive manner.

“While we have made significant medical advances in managing HIV/AIDS, the ultimate success in improving these peoples’ lives is getting them back into society as full productive members. This partnership aims to achieve that goal,” he said.

The partnership’s services are sorely needed in the state:

  • The city of Jackson has the fourth highest HIV infection rate of all U.S. metropolitan areas that report HIV infection information, according to the Center for Disease Control.
  • The African-American community in Mississippi is disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS. A recent study by the Mississippi State Department of Health found that African Americans represent 37 percent of the population, but account for 78 percent of new infections.
  • Mississippi ranks 49th in funding civil legal services, according to a report by the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission.

According to the National Center for Medical Legal Partnership, the medical-legal partnership is a healthcare delivery model that improves the health and well-being of low-income and other vulnerable populations by addressing unmet legal needs and removing legal barriers that impede health. Across the nation, there are 97 medical-legal partnerships serving 54,000 patients a year at more than 275 healthcare institutions.