Metropolitan Hospital Opens Legal Clinic And A Harlem Story

March 23, 2014

200314225-001The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) today announced the expansion of a medical-legal partnership that will offer free hospital-based legal assistance to thousands of low income HHC patients who need help getting food stamps, unemployment benefits, avoiding evictions, obtaining visas and navigating other immigration matters. Under a new agreement, HHC will renew and expand the services of LegalHealth, a division of the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), to continue services at eight HHC hospitals and open new legal clinics at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Metropolitan Hospital Center in Manhattan and Queens Hospital Center.

“Medical care alone is not enough to address the complex health needs of many of our patients,” said Ross Wilson, M.D., HHC Chief Medical Officer.  “LegalHealth has become an integral member of the HHC healthcare team.  They are a true partner in our ability to combat the underlying social threats to good health.”

“We value this longstanding and growing partnership with HHC. The legal services we provide furthers HHC’s commitment to combatting the social determinants of health,” said Randye Retkin, Director of LegalHealth. “Our aggressive legal advocacy explores all legal remedies for patients — from receiving protection from an abusive spouse to becoming eligible to receive life-saving transplants.  Our legal intervention increases stability of patients and improves quality of life.”

LegalHealth will offer weekly half-day legal clinics for patients on site at all 11 HHC hospitals and provide quick access to attorneys dedicated to supporting patient cases, including court appearances, legal research and preparation of immigration filings.  In addition to onsite free legal clinics, LegalHealth trains health care professionals to recognize legal issues that may negatively affect medical outcomes.  That helps HHC doctors, social workers and other staff make appropriate referrals to the on-site lawyers from the legal services team.   LegalHealth has already handled 15,500 legal matters on behalf of more than 10,000 patients at eight HHC hospitals since 2002.  Immigration, public benefits and housing issues are the top three problem areas that generate the most referrals.

A Patient Success Story:

28 year old Aissata’s parents were fleeing civil and political unrest when they brought her to the United States from Mali when she was 8.  She completed school, and was unemployed because she did not have work authorization and was undocumented. Through NYLAG’s LegalHeath legal clinic at Harlem hospital, she met with a LegalHealth attorney who advised her about her immigration options. The LegalHealth attorney was able to assist her in applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which was granted. Now, Aissata is working legally, and does not have to fear deportation.

“I’m grateful for the referral to the LegalHealth clinic at Harlem Hospital. My attorney, Brian Hilburn helped me file for DACA which has allowed me to live here without fear. Through his assistance, I now have work authorization and a job. And, it was so convenient to be able to see him when I was already at Harlem Hospital for doctor’s appointments.”

“HHC social workers in particular witness first-hand how social and economic crisis can impact patient health.  Our hospitals and healthcare centers often serve as a sanctuary and a gateway to other services in the community even when their problems are not exclusively medical,” said Sandra Chaiken, Director of Social Work at HHC Jacobi Hospital and HHC North Central Bronx Hospital. “This medical-legal partnership model allows us to efficiently deploy our resources and focus on meeting the patient’s health and psychosocial needs while the onsite LegalHealth team can address those problems that have legal remedy. This is a powerful combination that makes a deep impact in people’s lives.”

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Under the new, five-year agreement, HHC will pay LegalHealth $825,000 per year.  The contract was approved by the HHC Board of Directors on March 27.  This program is subsidized by a grant from the Robin Hood Foundation.

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