Patient Advocates and Plaintiff's Attorneys: A Success Story

This is a story about how advocates and lawyers from across state lines and international boundaries worked together to improve the life of a patient who otherwise would have likely perished.  

Hear from the lawyers and advocates in this story at the TakeCharge Symposium March 18 & 19. 

It’s a perfect example of how collaboration among advocates will shape the future of the profession and make our services known to the legal profession, so that clients involved in litigation benefit from our collective efforts.

Although Susan had a couple of friends, her only family was an estranged brother, and a distant cousin in Montreal.

The story begins in February, 2019. Susan was a 71 year old single woman from southeast Florida. She was in average health, but she had been suffering from pain in her back and legs that was starting to impact her mobility. She had difficulty walking and sitting and her pain was not getting any better. Although Susan had a couple of friends, her only family was an estranged brother, and a distant cousin in Montreal. Susan had lived happily, albeit somewhat reclusively for many years.

Susan’s physician recommended surgery to relieve her pain. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned and Susan was left paralyzed from the waist down after a mistake in the operating room. The surgeon apologized, but said the harm was irreversible. Susan was devastated. She had been a relatively healthy senior, living with moderate pain, but she always remained independent. Now, she was without the use of her lower extremities, wheelchair-bound, afraid, and totally alone. 

Susan’s physician recommended surgery to relieve her pain. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned and Susan was left paralyzed from the waist down.

Susan spent several weeks in the hospital and was about to be transferred to a subacute rehabilitation facility in the Miami area. By that time, she had reached out to her cousin, Jackie, who lived in Montreal. Jackie began scouring the internet. While searching for help online, she discovered Independent Patient Advocacy and realized Susan needed one.

I'm often sought out by relatives of elderly South Floridians who live out of state. Many families and loved ones find comfort having a ‘boots on the ground’ advocate.

Jackie did her research from Montreal and she found Cathy F. Bowers, a South Florida patient advocate and "referral specialist." Cathy F. Bowers had a profile listing in a patient advocacy directory that described her capabilities like this: “Because of my knowledge and connections, I'm often sought out by relatives of elderly South Floridians who live out of state. Many families and loved ones find comfort having a ‘boots on the ground’ advocate.” Jackie reached out to Cathy F. Bowers and it was one of the best calls she ever made. 

During their first phone call, Jackie told Bowers that Susan was about to be transferred from the hospital to a rehabilitation program. Jackie was concerned. She did not think Susan was ready to be transferred, and she had many reasons in support of her opinion. It seemed like the hospital just wanted to get rid of Susan after the failed surgery. Cathy got to work immediately. She contacted the hospital and secured the proper HIPAA releases so she could talk to the medical staff and cousin Jackie. After sifting through the medical records, Bowers got in contact with Susan’s health insurance company and her case manager to start fighting the transfer and reversing the process. 

Avrom Fox with Michael Levine discussing the resolution of the case at the law office of Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain. Meet the lawyers and advocates in this story at the Take Charge Symposium March 18 & 19.

Bowers knew it was imperative to find a medical malpractice attorney for Susan because she had limited resources to pay for the costly care she would need. But, Susan also needed a lawyer that would understand the concept of patient advocacy and the importance of collaborating with advocates on a legal case. Bowers was also running into some reimbursement roadblocks and she needed support on the Medicare side of the case. So she called L. Bradley Schwartz, the President of Greater National Advocates and a Chicago malpractice attorney . Cathy and Brad discussed the emergent problems and together, they identified next steps, which included bringing on a highly skilled advocate who knew the ins and outs of Medicare. 

While Avrom and Cathy were getting acquainted in Florida, Schwartz began looking for a law firm that would work with the assembled team of advocates. 

Brad immediately considered Avrom Fox , a Chicago-based patient advocate who specializes in Medicare and Medicaid. After he hung up with Cathy, Brad called Avrom and learned that he was indeed available to help. As an added bonus, Avrom just happened to be in southeast Florida at the time of the call. He immediately joined the advocacy team, partnered up with Cathy and Jackie, and got up to speed on the facts and challenges in this complicated case.

None of the advocacy team members had seen this kind of support from law firms before. When asked about the collaboration.

While Avrom and Cathy were getting acquainted in Florida, Schwartz began looking for a law firm that would work with the assembled team of advocates. Schwartz knew that Florida laws were not necessarily favorable to patients harmed by doctors. He also knew that he needed to find a particular kind of firm. The firm needed to be small enough to give this case the immediate attention it deserved. At the same time, the lawyers needed to be relatable and compassionate. In his research, Schwartz found the Miami law firm of Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A. Schwartz told the firm about Susan’s case and about the need for ongoing patient advocacy. 

To us, they [the patient advocates] were consultants… and that’s really what led us to be comfortable attributing some of their work as a case cost. All of that work goes towards our case and what we need to be doing.

The Florida lawyers immediately understood the need to work with patient advocates, even though they had never done so before. The lead attorneys on the case, Michael E. Levine and Stephen F. Cain, committed to making sure that, where possible, advocacy fees would be treated as case costs. As a result, some of those fees would later be deducted from any settlement and if there was no award, those fees would be borne by the firm.  

L. Bradley Schwartz and Michael Levine

Attorneys L. Bradley Schwartz (Chicago) and Michael E. Levine (Miami) joined forces, with an assembled team of advocates, to resolve the case quickly. You can meet the lawyers and advocates in this story at the Take Charge Symposium March 18 & 19.

None of the advocacy team members had seen this kind of support from law firms before. When asked about the collaboration, Levine said, “To us, they [the patient advocates] were consultants… and that’s really what led us to be comfortable attributing some of their work as a case cost. All of that work goes towards our case and what we need to be doing."

The lawyers made extraordinary progress in the case. Because it was clear that there was medical error, a mediator was engaged and the case settled in 9 months. Fortunately, all of the stars were lined up in favor of Susan. She had a highly motivated cousin, two patient advocates, and a team of great lawyers and on her side.

 I hope that this is going to be a very good example of embracing patient advocates and welcoming us into the practice to achieve these successes. 

This particular case illustrates how a team made up of both advocates and lawyers were able to come together and make a huge difference in the life of a patient who had no one else to turn to for help. “This could have ended up far worse without this team who essentially became her family,” Said Fox when talking about the importance of collaboration between fields.

Cathy Bowers looks forward to a future where this kind of collaboration is more common, “I hope that this is going to be a very good example of embracing patient advocates and welcoming us into the practice to achieve these successes.” There is little doubt that this overlap will become more common over time. Due to the passion and dedication of each team member, this collaboration is paving the way for a new world of Independent Patient Advocacy. 

It's clear that a result like this could never have been accomplished without such an experienced, dedicated, and cohesive team. 

Fortunately, all of the stars were lined up in favor of Susan. She had great lawyers, her cousin Jackie, and two well-qualified patient advocates. Because of the joint efforts of the advocates and the the attorneys, the case was able to presented to a mediator where it settled in nine months. That's an incredibly fast resolution of a case like this in a jurisdiction like Frorida. It's clear that a result like this could never have been accomplished without such an experienced, dedicated, and cohesive team. The settlement funds will provide Susan with the ability to pay for all of the services and support she will require for the rest of her life.

Susan now resides in a magnificent facility. She has made great progress with her rehab, but most importantly she is living a life with dignity and quality. She is happy interacting with other residents in the facility; she is indebted to her cousin Jackie and to Team Susan, consisting of Brad and Michael on the legal side and Avi and Cathy on the patient advocacy side.

Hear from the lawyers and advocates in this story at the Take Charge Symposium Marcch 18 & 19.