The Hofstra University School and Law and Northwell Health have formed a medical-legal partnership as a means of alleviating the various social obstacles that affect their patients’ health.
The program, which has been in the works for over a year, will be launching on July 15 at Northwell’s pediatric clinic in New Hyde Park, its internal medicine clinic in Great Neck and its ambulatory care center at the North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital in Queens.
Johanna Martinez, the Co-Director of Medicine for the Medical-Legal Partnership, brought the idea to Northwell and said that it was a perfect fit, given the institution’s already established relationship with Hofstra University.
Medical-legal partnerships operate at 373 health care organizations nationwide, including 31 in New York State, but this will be the first on Long island, according to the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership at George Washington University.
The organization states that 60 percent of a person’s access to health care is determined by social factors, such as income and health insurance, housing conditions, level of education or employment, legal status and family life. Hofstra and Northwell intend to provide legal help as a supplement to medical treatment as a means of ensuring all patients have quality access to health care.
“What we’re going to do is embed attorneys in various Northwell clinics so they could provide on-the-ground legal support to patients in need of it,” said Anthony Serrano, the program’s Co-Executive Director of Law and a senior fellow at the Hofstra School of Law.
Student fellows at the Hofstra School of Law are conducting research to further identify and understand patients' social needs and, Dean Gail Prudenti said, “We are going to have lawyers and doctors learning about each other and their disciplines.”
Jean Krebs is a Hofstra student and Queens resident with a personal connection to Northwell Health. As an infant, Krebs underwent open-heart surgery for cardiac complications and throughout her life has required frequent monitoring at her local Northwell Health clinic. When she heard of the partnership, she jumped at the opportunity, saying, “It’s more important than ever that these worlds unite.”
Krebs said that patients might not know what legal resources are out there or are afraid to seek legal help to alleviate a medical issue. For example, she said, some insurance companies do not provide coverage for gender-affirmation surgery because such providers do not consider it a medical necessity. The partnership could provide transgender patients with the tools to find coverage.
Another example of when the partnership could provide guidance involves patients who are immigrants seeking American citizenship. “I think that there is a great fear to come forward and seek medical attention when your immigration status could be challenged,” Prudenti said. “We’re going to be able to talk to [such patients] in confidence, gain their trust and respect and then refer them to our deportation defense clinic or immigration clinic. We’re already set up to help them on a very practical and pragmatic level.”
As the two entities prepare for the launch of the program, they are researching how they could sustain the program and what it may look like five to ten years from now. It’s being funded for the next two years with a $512,000 state grant through New York State's Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment Program.
Prudenti said that data collection is imperative as a means of measuring the partnership’s success and securing future funding. She projected that the partnership will grow, adding, “I only see a bright future.”