Lawyers Giving Back

Far too many of us know the devastation of a breast cancer diagnosis.  The more fortunate among us are able to focus on getting the best healthcare available in our determined efforts to beat this disease.  Faced with surgery, treatment, our fears and pain, as well as the distress of our loved one’s, we can hardly imagine facing anything more difficult.  We need not look far, however, for the many among us who are not just battling breast cancer, but doing so from motel rooms, while living in cars, or living in sub-standard conditions and depending upon the food pantry for groceries, lacking health insurance and unable to pay for the treatment and care necessary to save their lives.  What does someone who cannot even afford food, let alone health insurance, do when diagnosed with breast cancer?  If they are fortunate, someone directs them to Legal Aid of Manasota, a non-profit civil law firm that provides free legal services to low income individuals and families in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

From applying for Medicaid and disability, to finding and securing safe and affordable housing, to seeking justice for medical maltreatment, to employment discrimination, the attorneys at Legal Aid of Manasota are dedicated to bringing equal justice to the most vulnerable among us.  With the kind support of hundreds of attorneys, local law firms, the bar associations, generous sponsors and other volunteers, the agency has served thousands of needy clients by providing free legal services and community education classes.

A very educated and friendly man recently asked me what I do for a living.  I explained that I work with Sarasota Memorial, assisting uninsured, low-income women who need but cannot afford access to breast health care.  “There are uninsured people in Sarasota?” he asked half-jokingly, but also half-seriously.  I thought about a recent 63-year-old patient, diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, whom we were able to get Medicaid for, but whose social security check was not enough to cover the first month/last month/security deposit sum necessary to secure rental housing.  She is living in a motel room as close as she can get to the Florida Cancer Specialist’s locale where she is receiving her treatment, but one week before the end of June, her money had run out.  She called me to say she needed to get to a homeless shelter as she had no other options and could I direct her.  After an entire day of calling every homeless shelter and program that exists in both Sarasota and Charlotte counties, I learned that homeless shelters don’t accept women with breast cancer due to the medical liabilities involved.  I also learned that hospice centers don’t accept indigent breast cancer patients unless they’re sufficiently near death and are able to complete all of the paperwork necessary to transfer their Medicaid payments to the hospice center.  I concluded that effectively helping this patient was going to require more knowledge, resources, and guidance than I could offer her.  That’s when Legal Aid of Manasota steps in.  From applying for the Medicaid supplement she’ll need once she reaches Medicare age, to securing stable housing, answering her many questions and guiding her legally, the attorneys and staff at Legal Aid of Manasota will help her to navigate through every legal issue she faces, enabling her to focus the little energy she has on her health.

Legal Aid of Manasota provides a variety of pro bono (free) civil legal services to members of the community who qualify for their services.  For more information, visit http://www.legalaidofmanasota.org.

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