Medical-legal partnerships transform care by integrating lawyers into the workflow of traditional medical clinics. Lawyers who are familiar with the impact of poverty on people’s lives can work with medical staff to address key barriers to care.
For Juliana Morgan-Trostle, the need was clear. Instead of forcing patients at West County Health Center with Contra Costa Health Services to go to an outside legal office for help, she brought the lawyers to them. Juliana first raised the idea to Bay Area Legal Aid during an internship in the San Francisco Bay area while in law school in New York City. Soon after, she got approval from the health center and received a two-year Equal Justice Works fellowship to provide services to Spanish-speaking patients who are survivors of interpersonal violence.
The program is the first in Contra Costa County to provide bilingual on-site legal services to medical patients. The partnership, says Juliana, makes it possible for many of the patients to get the help they need.
“Many immigrant survivors of interpersonal violence don’t seek out legal services due to a fear of being reported to immigration officials, a lack of transportation, or language barriers—yet many still do access healthcare services. Rather than falling through the cracks, this program helps survivors escape cycles of abuse.”
When the question came up about how the social services that go hand in hand with the legal services would be provided–there was a partnership in the works. Health Leads advocates, already at the clinic, would work with Juliana to make patient referrals and to complete the essential resource needs connections. Juliana would focus on offering free legal support for issues with immigration, family law, public benefits and housing.
Juliana is applying for long-term funding for the program. She has seen how health outcomes can be impacted by addressing the underlying issues that affect health. Now she’s hoping this medical-legal partnership will become a permanent way of caring for patients at the West County Health Center.