June 2023

Pediatrics Press

MUSC Launches First Medical Legal Partnership

by Jennifer Ware

Imagine your child has been diagnosed with cancer and requires inpatient treatment. Most people would be consumed with comforting and supporting their loved one through treatment and recovery. But for others, concerns such as transportation to the hospital, the ability to miss work to attend appointments, the ability to care for their other children or the financial pressure of having to pay medical bills adds a level of vulnerability that may be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.

In an effort to address social determinants of health and build an integrated care system that can assess and assist those facing these situations, Angela LaRosa, M.D. and Children’s and Women’s ICCE Administrator Amy Hauser have partnered with Charleston Pro Bono and Charleston Legal Aid to create MUSC’s first Medical Legal Parnership (MLP).

MLPs are rising in importance as the healthcare industry continues to focus on social determinants of health. Some determinants, like food insecurity or transportation, can be addressed via hospital intervention, but others, like housing eviction and educational advocacy, lie outside the spectrum of care providers can feasibly provide on their own. Legal teams and medical staff can work together to help patients navigate the legal challenges that impact patient health.

The importance of creating an MLP at MUSC developed for Dr. LaRosa over the decades-long span of her career. “I’ve been in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics for 20 years and it’s not just the medical portion of it – we’re trained to focus on the social history and adverse child experiences as well,” she says. “It was seeing patients continue to be in a cycle that they almost couldn’t get out of because they didn’t have financial stability or whatever else they needed to go to the next level. The thing that really struck me is that legal assistance should be available to everyone whether they had the money to hire an attorney or not. We needed to create a safety net for these families.”

Amy Hauser had her first experience with MLPs years ago when she was a pediatric nurse at Children’s Healthcare in Atlanta. One patient, a young child, was repeatedly visiting the emergency room for debilitating asthma. “The child lived in subsidized public housing, and the housing was not kept up - had rodents, mold, etc. - which was exacerbating their asthma. It wasn’t good for the child and not good for us as a healthcare system as well,” she recalls. “Through the MLP we were able to find the family appropriate housing, make sure they had the right equipment and medical supplies, and as a result, the child’s visits dramatically decreased.”

The need for MLPs in America is tremendous – one in six families live in poverty and research demonstrates that on average, these households experience between 1 to 3 unaddressed legal needs that negatively impact their health. In the Charleston County area, 13.4% of residents have an income below the poverty line, placing them at major risk for food insecurity and other complications.

When it came to creating the MLP here at MUSC, Dr. LaRosa explains that the “why” was well known: “We know that there’s data to suggest having Medical Legal Partnerships improves patient outcomes.” The next step was to find a dedicated individual who could provide the connection between the provider and the legal point of contact. “Amy Hauser was absolutely instrumental in getting the funding for a dedicated social worker,” she continues. “It took us a long time to find just the right person, but we did and now we’re ready to roll the program out.”

Providers wishing to submit a patient for referral would first reach out through Proficient. The MLP social worker then conducts an assessment in person or virtually/over the phone using a list of questions from an app that was specially designed by students at Georgetown University School of Law in Washington, D.C. If the patient is determined to be eligible for legal aid, they are then connected with either Charleston Pro Bono or Charleston Legal Access.

Though the program is piloting in just one division, the hopes are to expand it across MUSC as a whole. “We’re going to start with Developmental Pediatrics, get it ingrained there, and then we’ll begin expanding it out,” says Amy Hauser. “Our ultimate goal is to have it in Children’s and Women’s, and as it grows and we can show the successes, this is the type of program we would love to see expand through the entire MUSC health system.”

And by combining legal expertise and services with medical care, Dr. LaRosa hopes that MUSC’s MLP can disrupt the cycle of returning people to the unhealthy conditions that would otherwise bring them right back to the clinic or hospital. “If you’re a patient in the hospital, your outcome is being affected by the psychosocial factors. And as physicians, if we do not address those, we’re never really going to get the best outcomes for our patients.”


March 2023

Pediatrics Press

Peds GI Division Chief Dr. Benjamin Kuhn and Pediatric Dietician Amber Johnson consult in the hospital

Dr. Kuhn's Vision to Make Pediatric GI Division the Premiere Care Center of South Carolina

by Jennifer Ware

Unless they’re experiencing an issue, not many people think about the self-contained uniqueness of the GI tract. But it’s that aspect that drew MUSC Pediatric Gastroenterology Division Chief Dr. Benjamin Kuhn to the field in the first place. “What I find fascinating about Gastroenterology is that the entire GI tract is technically outside the body,” he says. “From your mouth to the end, it’s a hollow tube that travels throughout your body: you put into what you think you need for nutrition or hydration, and your body knows what to absorb or eliminate.”

It's this fascination and passion that’s inspired Dr. Kuhn to tirelessly work to position MUSC not only as the most comprehensive Pediatric GI and Hepatology care center in South Carolina, but one of the best in the nation.

One recent major coup: the acquisition of a Pediatric GI Motility Specialist. “When patients struggle with intestinal motility issues, the symptoms can range from being unable to eat or swallow food to difficulty with bowel movements,” says Dr. Kuhn. “When the motion of the intestines is not right, lots of problems can ensue.”

Particularly complicated cases can require the attention of a Pediatric GI Motility Specialist, which Dr. Kuhn says is a highly technical role both expertise wise as well as technology wise. “The ability to test and measure the motility or the motion of the GI tract, as well as evaluate and manage patient care and keep up with advancements year over year is incredibly valuable,” he says. “Previously there used to be a certain threshold required for patients to undergo that degree of testing and expert care, which up until now we would have had to refer out of state. There has been an unmet need for this specialty in Charleston as well as the entire state of South Carolina, and it’s amazing that we’ll be able to offer it here at MUSC.”

Dr. Kuhn is equally proud of the division’s current team of six physicians and four nurse practitioners. “Our Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, which is managed by Dr. Carmine Suppa, is top notch,” he says. “One of the emerging technologies that MUSC is an early adopter of is ultrasound to detect changes in the bowel brought on by inflammatory bowel disease. Dr. Suppa is one of the few practitioners in the state trained to be able to do so. It can be done in office during a visit and be a quick, non-painful way to evaluate someone’s disease activity.”

In addition to comprehensive general pediatric gastroenterology care, MUSC’s division also offers multidisciplinary clinics for inflammatory bowel disease, aerodigestive care, intestinal failure, eosinophilic esophagitis as well as having the only pediatric liver transplant center in South Carolina.

What makes being at the helm of such a thriving center of excellence even more of an achievement is that originally Dr. Kuhn was determined NOT to go into medicine. “I studied biology and genetics at Cornell, and after I graduated, I worked in a lab. And that’s fully what I intended on doing as a career,” he says. “But after becoming a research associate at Penn State College of Medicine, which was more clinical/patient based, I realized that there was more to this than just lab work. I went to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, then returned to Penn State Children’s Hospital for my Pediatrics residency.”

After completing his fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Dr. Kuhn landed at Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania. He eventually made regional director of Pediatrics, and the position’s multidisciplinary team building experience prepared him for his role as Division Chief at MUSC.

“I’m very excited to be a part of this division and MUSC as a whole. Our team continues to grow in breadth and depth of services offered, and there’s so much more on the horizon,” he says. “MUSC is an amazing children’s health system with world class care. When one division succeeds, we all succeed. And it’s our patients who benefit the most."