The medical-legal partnership between Widener Law and Crozer-Keystone Healthy Start, part of Women and Children’s Health Services, recently received another grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to continue its important community service work.
The grant will again be used to assist program participants in gaining free legal assistance provided by Widener Law attorneys and students, which is intended to improve the participants’ health and well being. The program through Crozer-Keystone is one of only three Healthy Start programs in the country to receive this competitive grant. The others are in Los Angeles and Washington D.C.
“More than 80 percent of the civil legal problems of the poor go unmet,” said Widener Law adjunct Professor Daniel Atkins
, who co-founded the Health, Education and Legal assistance Project: A Medical-Legal Partnership, at the law school with Professors Robert L. Hayman
and John G. Culhane
. “By partnering with Crozer-Keystone Healthy Start we are able to use the law to help parents obtain health insurance, remain housed, and receive the public benefits to which they are entitled.”
Crozer-Keystone Healthy Start provides social service assistance for women and families in need. Healthy Start is a free program for pregnant women and families who have children younger than 24 months old who live in the City of Chester, Pa. and the surrounding community.
The grant funds the legal team at Widener, which consists of alumna Laura Handel ’09, who works on the project full time, and attorney Megan Mahle, who works part time. Together with a group of Widener Law students, the team provides civil legal services for Healthy Start program participants and legal training to the Crozer-Keystone Healthy Start staff.
By training the staff to identify legal needs and appropriately refer Healthy Start clients to the legal team, the project has provided comprehensive legal and social assistance to improve the health and well being of program participants.
Twenty students have taken part in the project since it was first funded in the fall 2009 semester. This semester they include Ashley Talley, Asoma Akam, Jennifer Perez, Jordan Mickman, Nicholas Madiou and Sara Alsaleh. In addition, Atkins said the project has benefitted from the assistance of dozens more students who volunteered through the Public Interest Resource Center
to do needs assessments on potential clients.
“Our approach to legal advocacy is holistic because we legally “treat” our clients as whole people, not merely isolated legal issues,” said Handel, who received the Christine M. McDermott Legacy Award for Outstanding Clinical Service during her third year at Widener Law. “As legal aid attorneys and public-interest law students, we seek to help increase underserved clients’ access to justice in crisis situations, but we also work to improve the overall health and quality of life for our clients and their families.
“This experience provides Widener students with a tremendous opportunity to be part of life-changing improvements in our clients’ lives, all while they gain valuable hands-on legal experience and build skills that ready them for the workplace,” Handel said.
“This program is truly incredible,” says Joanne Craig, Administrative Director of Women and Children’s Health Services at Crozer Keystone. “Everyone works so hard and dedicates a lot of time to help our program participants. The grant means the world to us, and we are very happy that we received enough money to keep the program alive. We have changed many lives for the better, and we hope to be able to continue this partnership for a long time.”
By partnering with the program, Widener staff, housed within the law school’s Health Law Institute, have been able to use the law to help parents obtain health insurance, remain housed, and receive the public benefits to which they are entitled.
Based on evaluation results conducted by a team of public health experts at Thomas Jefferson University, the project’s goal – to assist program participants with legal problems which, un-remediated, negatively impact their health and well-being – is being achieved. Seventy-five percent of participants who responded to follow-up surveys reported that their overall stress level decreased after legal intervention. Also, 67 percent of participants reported that both their health and their child’s health improved following receiving legal services.
The HRSA grant required the creation of measurable objectives, all of which were exceeded in the past year. Some of these goals and results include:
- Goal: To provide legal services in at least 75 cases benefiting at least 100 program participants.
Result: The program provided services in 99 cases/legal consultations, benefiting 150 individuals.
- Goal: To conduct 12 staff trainings that would help the Healthy Start staff become more knowledgeable with the legal dimensions of the cases that were brought to them
Result: 14 different trainings were held on a variety of legal topics including public benefits, family law, Social Security, and Medicaid.
“Fueling our success, and ultimately an amazing partnership, are two very willing, dedicated and interested organizations working together to provide assistance and to bridge the gap between the two respected fields,” Craig said. “Some of the cases were very time-consuming, and it is often hard to multi-task when you are handling such important issues. The trainings provided to our staff made us more knowledgeable in the legal aspect of these cases, and it also made us realize things that we can and cannot do for our clients. Having the attorneys around relieved a lot of stress for our employees.”