HHC Joins LegalHealth to Treat More Than Aches and Pains
Mr. S. was getting care for bone cancer at Bellevue Hospital and unable to work because of treatment side effects. He lived in a single unheated room and frequently went hungry. Despite serious health problems his application for federal disability payments was denied. Poor living conditions were compromising his recuperation, but without financial assistance he couldn’t afford a better apartment. Luckily for Mr. S., his social worker at Bellevue had a partner to turn to for help – LegalHealth, a division of the non-profit New York Legal Assistance Group.
“LegalHealth complements health care with legal care,” said Randye Retkin, Director of LegalHealth. “When health care professionals see a patient’s health being impacted by poor housing conditions or denial of disability benefits, we want them to know that something can be done about it.”
HHC and LegalHealth have partnered to provide free legal services to patients for four years. At Bellevue, Elmhurst, Kings, and Lincoln hospitals nearly 900 patients have been referred by staff for free aid on nearly 1,300 civil legal matters. Lawyers have assisted with everything from denied public benefits to helping patients with wills, health care proxies and powers of attorney. They’ve even helped families reduce their children’s asthma symptoms by moving them to new, cleaner apartments or getting apartment repairs quickly to reduce dust or mold.
“For patients suffering from debilitating illnesses, the added stress of legal problems – from living in uninhabitable housing to losing medical benefits - can be overwhelming and even lethal,” said HHC President Alan D. Aviles. “Our collaboration with LegalHealth enables us to treat both medical and non-medical ailments – the whole patient.”
LegalHealth has also worked to train doctors, nurses, social workers and other staff at HHC facilities about how to identify and address legal issues for low-income patients. The hospitals host weekly legal clinics where patients meet attorneys for free legal advice and representation.
Mr. S. got his disability benefits, moved into a heated apartment, and now has enough to eat because of LegalHealth. He can focus on his recovery and is preparing to return to work as soon as his health allows.
LegalHealth’s partnership with HHC reaches some of our most vulnerable patients and offers another important tool for treating all at-risk New Yorkers.