Medical-Legal Partnerships Offer Pivotal Assistance to Those in Need

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Berkeley Law – By Andrew Cohen

Their work is often more vexing than vindicating, more trying than triumphant. But for those who provide help—and hope—for clients of the Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) project, the experience is intensely satisfying.

An initiative of the East Bay Community Law Center’s Health & Welfare Program, the project partners with three area hospitals and recently celebrated 10 years of collaboration with Oakland Children’s Hospital. Founded on a $25,000 budget, the initiative has grown in capacity and impact by helping patients secure basic needs to stabilize their families’ lives.

“This partnership has not only improved the health of patients we see through direct service, it has also educated over 500 pediatricians about the special nature of legal services and how to use lawyers as consultants,” said Gena Lewis, a Children’s Hospital staff pediatrician. “Just as we use a cardiologist for specialized help for a child’s heart condition, it’s now commonplace for a pediatrician to call a lawyer for consultation about a habitability or immigration crisis.”

Doctors and social workers identify legal issues faced by patients and their families, including denial of public benefits. Although patients are generally referred with a single concern, supervising attorney Erin Le and her team of Berkeley Law students dig for broader solutions to their life circumstances—resulting in both direct assistance and referrals to other legal resources.

“Many of our client families have children and adults who have experienced traumatic events or the lifelong trauma of growing up poor,” Le said. “These stressors have real health impacts.  Some have clearer causes—a lot of our clients are diagnosed with severe asthma at a young age because of poor housing conditions—but growing up poor is also correlated with higher rates of depression, obesity, heart disease and cancer.”

David Nahmias ’18 admires how the partnership addresses “the many economic and social determinants of health and their connections to poverty; it does not look at law in a vacuum.” Helping a mother of three tackle housing-related issues and appeals of reductions in her food stamps and Medi-Cal benefits recently, he prepared a letter that convinced her landlord to make overdue home repairs. Fluent in Spanish, Nahmias has also nearly resolved her benefits matter after several calls with the state appeals officer assigned to her case.

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