UMC, Miss. Center for Justice partnership to aid people with HIV/AIDS

Clarion LedgerThe Mississippi Center for Justice and the University of Mississippi Medical Center announced on Thursday plans for a medical-legal partnership to provide free civil legal services to Mississippians living with HIV/AIDS.

The collaboration — which includes a joint agreement with the Center, UMC, 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, according to a press release from the hospital.

Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm, will provide on-site legal assistance at the Crossroads Clinics Central for people living with HIV/AIDS. The legal assistance will focus primarily on HIV-status-related discrimination in housing and employment, the release stated.

“In the face of employment and housing discrimination, HIV/AIDS patients often lack access to legal resources,” said Marni von Wilpert, Skadden Legal Fellow at the Mississippi Center for Justice. “This program will help ensure they are treated fairly so they can lead productive, fulfilling lives.”

Dr. Claude Brunson, a UMC professor of anesthesiology and senior adviser 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,” he said. “This partnership aims to achieve that goal.”

The partnership’s services are sorely needed in the state, a UMC spokesman said. Jackson has the fourth highest HIV-infection rate of U.S. metropolitan areas reporting that information, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Additionally, a study conducted by the state Department of Health showed the African-American community in Mississippi is disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS, according to the UMC press release.

The MDHS study found African Americans represent 37 percent of the population but account for 78 percent of new infections.

Meanwhile, Mississippi ranked next to last in funding civil legal services, according to a report by the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission.

The partnership is similar to an emerging trend in the nation to provide services to people living with HIV/AIDS. According to the National Center for Medical Legal Partnership, the medical-legal partnership is a health-care 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.