For Camden-area residents dealing with complex care issues, an inability to meet basic needs such as housing, health care, and nutritious food are obstacles to improving their health and wellbeing.
Through the Rutgers Law School Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) with the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, patients have opportunities to improve their quality of life by resolving legal issues as well as getting the health care they need.
Working alongside the Camden Coalition’s nurses, social workers, and community health staff, MLP attorney Jeremy Spiegel handles a variety of legal issues, including assisting in clearing up old cases of unpaid fines and fees, helping clients avoid eviction from their homes, and preventing employers from wrongfully limiting employees’ disability benefits.
Camden Coalition care team members meet with complex care patients at Cooper, Lourdes, and other area hospitals to help coordinate patient care. The team guides patients to access the care they need, such as connecting them with a primary-care physician or a specialist, or arranging transportation to get them to appointments.
When a patient has legal issues that are a barrier to improved health, Camden Coalition social workers refer the patient to the MLP attorney to help resolve the issues.
“Sometimes, patients don’t even recognize that the issues they have and the barriers they confront are actually of a legal nature,” says Spiegel.
Since the partnership between Rutgers Law School and the Camden Coalition began in November 2017, the MLP has assisted 60 patients, obtained more than $10,000 in reductions of fines and fees, and secured more than $10,000 in disability benefits for patients.
Unresolved legal issues can add to the stress that vulnerable patients are already experiencing, which could affect their medical conditions and their ability to make decisions, says Spiegel.
After almost two years of serving the community, the MLP is poised to expand its services after receiving a $50,000 grant from the Rowan University/Rutgers–Camden Board of Governors. The MLP also receives support from the Holman Auto Group.
“The Joint Board’s funding has been crucial to our ability to build the MLP and expand the type and number of cases that we can take,” says Kimberly Mutcherson, Rutgers Law School co-dean. “Their support helps us bring needed legal services to the people of Camden.”
Ashley Maddison, a recent Rutgers Law graduate, is joining the MLP as an additional attorney to handle patients’ legal matters, and conduct advocacy work for reforms in health care. Through a fellowship from Equal Justice Works, Maddison will be working with the MLP for two years.
“There are many patients in the Camden area with legal needs, and we want to serve a greater number,” says Spiegel.
Future plans for the MLP are to create a clinical program housed at Rutgers Law School in Camden to have faculty-supervised student-lawyers work with clients and to offer opportunities for Rutgers–Camden students from such disciplines as nursing and social work to participate in the MLP.