The Health, Education and Legal assistance Project: A Medical-Legal Partnership at Widener University (“HELP: MLP”) provides free civil legal services to individuals in order to improve their overall health and well-being. HELP: MLP serves the southeastern Pennsylvania region through its health care partners, Crozer-Keystone Healthy Start and Philadelphia Nurse-Family Partnership.
It is widely understood among public health professionals that social determinants of health are often the root causes of poor health and the primary contributors to health disparities. Eighty percent of the civil legal needs of people who are poor go unmet due to inadequate funding, imposing undue stress and other burdens impacting health. Sponsored by Widener University, HELP: MLP addresses social determinants of health impacting low income communities through civil legal representation.
HELP: MLP was founded in 2009 and in 2010 led the development of the original and only existing Medical-Legal Partnership with a Healthy Start or Nurse-Family Partnership program in the country. Funded by federal grants, private foundations, and direct contributions from its partners, HELP: MLP is currently based in Chester, Pa. where over 40 percent of residents live in poverty, facing numerous barriers to good health and Philadelphia, Pa.
HELP: MLP attorneys, collaborating with nurses and social workers, provide holistic services to its partners and their clients, including:
- Direct Legal Assistance. HELP: MLP has resolved hundreds legal issues benefiting hundreds of Nurse-Family Partnerships and Healthy Start participants, and their families. Cases include obtaining and maintaining safe and affordable housing; preventing utility shut-offs; securing public benefits and Medicaid; enforcing disability and special education rights; resolving custody and paternity issues; providing protection from domestic violence, among many others.
- Training/Consultation. HELP: MLP delivers monthly training to partners, their clients, and community advocates in order to help them identify unmet legal needs that might be impacting client health, as well as understand how the law can be used to help those clients. HELP: MLP also provides “just in time” consultations to partners every day on legal issues and questions arising in the course of their work with clients.
- Systemic Advocacy. HELP: MLP, in collaboration with its health care partners, advocates for systemic change that benefits all people with low-incomes.