Medical-Legal Clinic Celebrates 5 Years!

Members of the Silicon Valley Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic team: Dan Szrom, Dr. Lee Anna Botkin, Patti Massey, and Maighna Jain.

Members of the Silicon Valley Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic team: Dan Szrom, Dr. Lee Anna Botkin, Patti Massey, and Maighna Jain.

VMC’s successful innovation to place lawyers on site at pediatric health clinics has reached an important milestone. This month, the Silicon Valley Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic celebrates its 5 year anniversary at Valley Medical Center.

The rationale for medical-legal partnerships is simple: Sometimes a child’s health problems require a legal solution. Pediatricians treat children with chronic asthma due to substandard housing conditions, children who face challenges at school when they need to take medications during the school day, and children whose parents need assistance accessing food stamps and other benefits to help keep their children healthy – among many other issues. Sometimes in cases like these, free legal services from a specially-trained attorney can mean the difference between a child’s ever worsening health and identifying a lasting solution in their home or school environment.

The Silicon Valley Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic is a collaboration between Valley Medical Center and Legal Advocates for Children and Youth, a program of the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley. Since its inception, the clinic has received 763 referrals from VMC pediatricians, nurses, and other clinical staff. Providers widely agree that the program is a valuable addition to VMC’s patient services and an important tool for improving health outcomes for higher risk patients. Dr. Lee Anna Botkin, the medical director of the Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic, describes the MLP as “a win-win program: we provide needed services to patients in a familiar and trusted setting, we educate medical professionals to identify unmet legal needs that impact health, and we give medical professionals a new framework for how to address the underlying factors that contribute to illness, stress, and crisis.”

The Silicon Valley Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic is the first in operation at a county health care facility in northern California. It was founded in 2009 with generous grant support from FIRST 5 Santa Clara County, an ongoing funder of the program. As we prepare to grow the program to additional clinic locations in the coming years, the support of private funders will be crucial. For more information about the Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic, including how you can be involved and support this valuable resource, contact Elizabeth Nielsen at (408) 373-6647 or

The crucial “Patient Safety Movement”

patient safety

Wait – patient safety needs to be a “movement”? Isn’t that just what hospitals DO?

Sure, yes, but consider that in 1990 studies showed that 90,000 Americans died in hospitals yearly due to medical errors. Twenty-plus years later, we recognize the number is more than TWICE that.

I know. Yikes.

Errors in hospitals are now the third leading cause of death in the United States, so a growing group of medical and tech leaders are pledging to solve this huge problem. Last weekend I attended the second annual Patient Safety Movement Summit, led by Joe Kiani of Massimo (a medical device company that helps find heart defects in newborns before they go home from the hospital). Joe is a charismatic leader with a BHAG: Zero preventable patient deaths by 2020.

“I suppose you expect me to tell you this goal is impossible,” said Mark Chassin, MD, CEO of The Joint Commission (the nation’s top hospital certifying agency). “But I won’t. It starts with a commitment to that goal, which we must do.”

Dr. Chassin also said this: “This is not rocket science. It’s much harder than that. Rocket science is simply getting machines to do what you want 99.99% of the time. Eliminating preventable patient deaths is getting PEOPLE to do what you want 99.99% of the time.”

What kinds of mistakes are we talking about? Lots, including: Giving the wrong medication or the wrong dose, post-operative respiratory depression, pressure sores, blood stream infections, leaving things inside a patient when you sew them up, falls, ventilator-associated pneumonia…and on and on.

How is Valley Medical Center doing? Proudly, very well…but we’re not perfect. One example: VMC cares for large numbers of patients who need a ventilator to breathe…and a while back we went 30 months without a ventilator-associated pneumonia case. That’s extraordinary.

But then we had one. And to that patient, and that family, it’s a big deal no matter our past track record. Any error is, and there’s so much we can do and must do. Medical devices and tech can help, but as Thomas Zeltner, MD of the World Health Organization told us, it’s truly about three things: Culture, culture, culture.

Less fear of transparency and ranking of hospitals, more accountability, more (if you can believe it) hand-washing, greater commitment to this cause—that and more is needed. We’ve got good company and help: Bill Clinton, Barbara Boxer, top hospitals and medical device manufacturers…they were all there with us pledging to work together and to share best practices.  I’m now believing we can do this as a nation.

So what about the VMC Foundation? How can we help? We’ll do what we’ve always done: Work to raise money and support the work of our nurses, doctors and everyone at VMC for whom patient safety runs in their veins. We’ll celebrate our victories and laud the innovators and milestones. Thankfully we have lots of those here at YOUR public hospital….but we need your help. If you want to know how your contribution could translate to improving safety at Valley Medical Center, call me.

A big thanks to Joe Kiani for launching this movement. A bigger thanks to the hundreds, thousands who will help grow it.