Christopher P. Montville
In and Around the Bar Legal Aid Foundation
About the Author
Christopher P. Montville is an Associates Campaign Representative for his firm, Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP. He also serves on the Legal Aid Foundation’s Associates Advisory Board. His practice focuses on legal malpractice defense, franchise litigation, and complex commercial litigation—(303) 244-1951, montville@wtotrial. com.
On April 1, 2013, the Legal Aid Foundation of Colorado kicked off its annual Associates Campaign. For many young lawyers, the Associates Campaign will be their first exposure to the work of Colorado Legal Services (CLS), the Legal Aid Foundation’s sole beneficiary. Although the Campaign traditionally has been fueled by healthy competition among law firms, it fundamentally exists for one reason: to help keep the lights on at the only legal organization able to serve hundreds of thousands of impoverished Coloradans, many of whom are children.
This article discusses just one important CLS program that needs additional funding to stay afloat—the Medical– Legal Partnership for Children. It is not alone in requiring public support to survive. Colorado lawyers can help support this program and CLS programs generally by participating in the Associate’s Campaign at their firm or by visiting www.legalaidfoundation.org and selecting "Donate Now."
"These Things Happen All the Time"
"We shouldn’t have kids dying because they can’t get their asthma medication, " says Ellen Alires-Trujillo, a CLS staff attorney. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened in 2009 when, at Children’s Hospital Colorado (Children’s Hospital), the mother of 9-year-old Zumante Lucero made the impossible decision to disconnect him from his respirator. He died four minutes later.
As The Denver Post reported at the time, Zumante had suffered from asthma since he was 3 months old. It became worse as he grew older. His physician prescribed Advair, an inhaled medicine, to control his asthma. His mother applied for Medicaid benefits to pay for it. For a while, things seemed okay.
A few months before Zumante’s death, however, the pharmacy refused to fill his prescription, telling his mother that he was no longer eligible for benefits. For the next four months, Zumante’s mother called Denver Human Services every three days to try to figure out why he had been rejected for medical benefits. The response she usually received was a computer-generated report showing that her son did in fact qualify for Medicaid. It made no difference; Colorado’s problem-plagued benefits-management computer system informed the pharmacy otherwise. Zumante’s mother continued to try to resolve the problem, all the while treating her son with other medications she still had. When his condition worsened, emergency room doctors at Children’s Hospital gave her free samples of Advair. By then, though, it was too late.
Zumante’s story might be among the most extreme and most tragic examples of the challenges that disadvantaged Colorado children face in obtaining basic medical care, but it is certainly not the only example. Alires-Trujillo says that although Zumante’s death pained her, it didn’t surprise her. "Childrens’ Medicaid benefits [have been] routinely terminated because of computer issues or because paperwork was left sitting on someone’s desk, " she explains. CLS Executive Director Jon Asher put it more succinctly: "These things happen all the time."
The Medical–Legal Partnership
Through its Medical–Legal Partnership for Children...