CHELSEA—October 31, 2013—Many immigrant and refugee families come to Chelsea from poor countries torn by civil war. They are war-weary and wary of authority figures. Many do not know that they have the right to complain about unsanitary rental apartments and the right to appeal from denial of public benefits. Thanks to a medical-legal partnership funded by the MGH Center for Community Health Improvement, these families can get help exercising those rights.
These men, women and children from Somalia, Afghanistan, Bosnia and many more global hot spots are patients at the MGH HealthCare Center in Chelsea. MGH Chelsea provides comprehensive health assessments for newly arriving refugees and persons seeking asylum to identify the health and social services that they need. Often their health care problems are rooted in the social determinants of health, such as the lack of affordable housing, steady employment and quality education.
When the patients of MGH Chelsea need help addressing housing and benefits concerns, they are referred to the Legal Initiative for Children (LINC), and they become the clients of Laura Maslow-Armand. She is an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. This Medical–Legal partnership between Mass General Hospital and the Lawyers’ Committee has helped 450 individuals to date, and celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. This partnership model is endorsed by the Massachusetts Bar Association and the American Bar Association, and is replicated in more than 100 sites throughout the United States.
“These Chelsea residents are striving to succeed. Some come from other countries and some who were born in this country live at or below the poverty level. To help these families move ahead in life, they need access to the services and benefits for which they are eligible. LINC provides assistance to a broad array of services including housing and disability benefits,” said Joan Quinlan, Executive Director of the MGH CCHI.
Maslow-Armand, who has been a civil rights attorney since 1993, works closely with the team of 30 medical interpreters and community health workers. The Community Health Team provides interpretation services in 15 different languages, including American Sign Language. LINC builds on the trust created by the health care providers at MGH Chelsea.
Maslow-Armand helps her clients avoid eviction or find an emergency assistance shelter. She uses her strong, longstanding relationships with public health agencies to connect her clients to support services and benefits. She files claim for disability and appeals denials before an Administrative Law Judge.
Here is the story of one client helped by the LINC program.
Lara, a native of the Dominican Republic, is a single mother of two from Chelsea who was diagnosed with advanced metastatic breast cancer. Her illness and subsequent treatment made it hard for her to work full-time in a nursing home laundry. With the help of MGH Chelsea bilingual Breast Cancer Program Coordinator, LINC assembled the medical records and support letters to file a disability benefits claim. Income from disability benefits would help Lara reduce her working hours to a more manageable, part time schedule, and, at the same time, maintain the level of income necessary to support her family. LINC accompanied Lara for her interview at the Social Security field office. However, Lara’s claim was denied. Although Lara had been living lawfully in the US for many years, she was not considered a “qualified alien” for purposes of the Social Security Administration. Lara then had to become a naturalized citizen in order to receive SSI. To achieve citizenship, LINC helped Lara receive a complete medical waiver. Once Lara became a US citizen, LINC helped Lara apply successfully for disability benefits.
Maslow-Armand said LINC is a time efficient model that can reduce health care costs by helping families to stay in their homes with access to various forms of cash assistance. According to a March 2012 Boston Bar Association report, health care costs are four times greater when a family becomes homeless and experiences overwhelming stress.
“I consider that I am fortunate to be able to work with so many committed health care providers and community workers. When I add my cover letter to the strong statements of support from the family‘s treating MGH Chelsea physician, our advocacy force is increased tenfold,” Maslow-Armand said.
About the Center for Community Health Improvement (CCHI)
CCHI www.massgeneral.org/cchi carries out its work in Chelsea, Revere, and Charlestown, where MGH has maintained healthcare centers for more than 40 years, as well as in Boston among youth, homeless persons and seniors. CCHI has partnered with the communities it serves to assess needs and create more than 38 programs that:
- Reduce and prevent substance abuse
- Intervene in the cycle of violence
- Tackle the obesity epidemic by increasing access to healthy food and physical activity
- Increase access to care for vulnerable populations such as immigrants and refugees, seniors, and homeless people
- Prevent cancers through early detection and screening
- Generate interest in science and health careers among youth