When Poverty Makes You Sick, a Lawyer Can Be the Cure

Good introduction to medical-legal partnerships, explaining how they help people, doctors and lawyers. From the NYT Opinionator "Fixes" blog.

Column (Massachusetts, NATIONAL, New York, Ohio)

Tina Rosenberg
New York Times (NYT)
July 17, 2014
New York Times article

Tags: Children & Juvenile, Health Care, Housing: Landlord-Tenant, Medical-Legal Partnerships

Organizations mentioned/involved: Cincinnati Child Health-Law Partnership (Child HeLP), Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, Family Advocacy Program (Boston), LegalHealth (New York City), Voices for Civil Justice, National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership (NCMLP)


New York Times Opinionator “Fixes” blog

By early summer 2010, the temperature had already reached 100 degrees in Cincinnati. At Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, doctors were urging the families of children with asthma to use air-conditioning. One mother handed a piece of paper to her doctor: The child’s room did have a window unit, and she was using it. But then the landlord responded — he apparently didn’t want to pay the electric bills. Use that air-conditioner, the letter said, and you will be evicted.

There were few medical-legal partnerships until about five or 10 years ago, but now 231 health care institutions have them, according to the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership. The largest is New York’s LegalHealth, which works in about 20 New York hospitals and is expanding — it will soon have clinics in all 11 of the city’s public hospitals.

Medical-legal partnerships are growing in part because of increasing attention to social determinants of health. Talking about inequality means talking about the vicious cycles that keep people poor; one of the most important is the intersection of poverty and health. “And sometimes a new asthma inhaler isn’t going to solve the problem,” said Martha Bergmark, executive director of Voices for Civil Justice, and until recently director of the Mississippi Center for Justice.

The vast majority of low-income Americans have unresolved legal problems: debt, immigration status, custody issues, child care, benefits, back pay, housing, a special education plan for a child — you name it. All of these affect stress levels, which is in itself a health issue, but many have a more direct connection to health.

Learn more about medical-legal partnerships.