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What's Law Got to Do with It? How Medical-Legal Partnerships Reduce Barriers to Health

The following article, posted by Ellen Lawton and Megan Sandel, appeared on Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) Culture of Health blog, and talks about the critical role that civil legal aid can play in addressing people's health. Read the introduction below and the full article on the RWJF website.

What's Law Got to Do with It? How Medical-Legal Partnerships Reduce Barriers to Health

Civil legal aid agencies are a proven resource for clinics to support patient needs and achieve health equity by addressing the social barriers to health.

A lawyer as part of the health care team? It's not as strange as it sounds. Many of the social conditions that impede health, such as housing, education, employment, food and insurance, can be traced to laws unfairly applied or under-enforced, often leading to the improper denial of services and benefits designed to help vulnerable people.

There are eight thousand civil legal aid lawyers in the U.S., and much of their work is directly related to improving health. They ensure access to food, health benefits and insurance for their clients. By fighting for better housing conditions and preventing evictions, they help create healthier physical environments. They help keep families safe and stable by establishing guardianships.

There is evidence that lawyers are more critical than ever to the health of vulnerable people. Each year the Department of Veterans Affairs surveys homeless veterans; the most recent CHALENG survey found that six of the top 10 barriers to housing were legal in nature. And a recent study at Lancaster General Hospital found that each of the hospital's highest-need, highest-cost patients had two to three health-harming civil legal problems.

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