Editor's note: This story first published in the Feb. 12 edition of The Columbus Telegram.
Katelyn Lawrence of Schuyler found her calling after being introduced to Legal Aid of Nebraska in college.
The nonprofit law firm helps low-income Nebraskans with civil legal challenges. Now through Lawrence's initiative, the company's Health, Education & Law Project has expanded to Columbus Community Hospital and Good Neighbor Community Health Center.
Through the new partnership, patients at CCH and Good Neighbor who qualify can be referred to Lawrence for free, civil legal services for issues affecting or inhibiting a person’s health, including: guardianships, Landlord/tenant and other housing issues, custody and/or divorce, SNAP (food stamp) denials, Medicaid/Medicare issues, durable power of attorney for financial matters, last will and testament, Social Security Disability SSI/SSDI appeal, education rights, FMLA and employment rights and private insurance denials.
The program officially launched during summer 2018 and was recently announced by CCH. Having worked with the program as a student, Lawrence proposed the idea of expanding it to the Columbus area. After getting Legal Aid's approval, she approached CCH about offering her services. Lawrence, who grew up in Columbus, said the goal of the free service is to help people who would not be able to afford legal services otherwise.
“Just the outpouring of support and referrals has been wonderful. We have been able to help so many people,” Lawrence said. “I think that we’re providing individuals with help that they would not be able to find otherwise. And not because there aren't wonderful attorneys in the Columbus area, but because maybe they don’t have the means to afford to go to a private attorney.”
Legal Aid of Nebraska is a statewide organization that has been providing legal services to those in need for more than 50 years. Ann Mangiameli is the managing attorney in charge of HELP statewide. After launching in Omaha in 2009 and a recent expansion to hospitals in Lincoln, the addition of medical providers in Columbus marks the program's first expansion to a rural area. So far, Mangiameli said it has been well received in Columbus.
“This is a service that not only helps the patient but helps the hospital,” Mangiameli said. “It's been wonderful because the Columbus community has really embraced us.”
Theresa Hilton, director of patients and outreach services for CCH, said the program was a win-win for both the hospital and Legal Aid. She said it’s another resource available to its patients that is greatly appreciated.
“I just think it's one of the best services that we ever really provided for our patients and their families,” Hilton said. “Having an attorney fighting for you…Really makes a big difference.”
Those seeking information about the program are encouraged to contact CCH’s social work staff at 402-562-4499.
“We’re providing a service where the people can focus solely on getting healthy," Lawrence said. "We’re making sure that they don’t have to worry about the costs associated with getting the assistance they need, which I think takes stress away, allowing them to just focus on getting healthy.”
Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.