The Georgetown University Medical Center and the Georgetown University Law Center launched the Health Justice Alliance, an educational and training partnership, to increase access to medical care and legal services for low-income Washington, D.C. residents on Nov. 22.
The alliance joins students from the two schools, as well as faculty, clinicians and other health professionals, to establish classes and train future professionals to identify and treat health-harming legal challenges.
The medical-legal partnership will place law students at Georgetown health clinics to provide free legal services to low-income patients on site.
GUMC announced that the first class for both medical students and law students will launch this spring, and the following fall the program will begin embedding law students at health clinics.
Georgetown University Health Justice Alliance Medical Director Eileen Moore explained that her goal of creating a medical-legal partnership developed when she was treating an asthmatic patient whose condition worsened due to her living conditions. Moore said she sought the help of an attorney to help the patient access safer housing.
“We have the resources here, the human resources, individuals who are passionate about health justice and social justice,” Moore said. “As soon as you look at taking care of patients, particularly patients in vulnerable populations, it becomes abundantly clear that a lot of the health-harming social determinants of health cannot be mitigated by physicians alone. We need the strength of the team the interdisciplinary team, to be able to intervene in many situations.”
Moore highlighted the partnership as a reflection of the university’s Jesuit tradition and commitment to social justice.
“It’s going to be incredibly exciting and I think very empowering to be able to practice at this new, deeper level to really be able to not only delve into those social determinants of health but also to have the toolbox there to help mitigate those problems,” Moore said. “I think that’s going to be incredibly powerful.”
GULC professor Yael Cannon said the program will seek to address racial inequality in the District as well as economic inequality.
“People who are living in poverty in Washington, D.C., especially people of color who experience significant health disparities, experience legal barriers to good health,” Cannon said. “We’re trying to mobilize the resources of both of our institutions together to try to address those barriers so that people can get healthy and experience true justice.”
According to a report released early September by the School of Nursing and Health Studies’ Department of Health Systems Administration, black men are expected to die 15 years earlier than white men in Washington, D.C.
Center for Law and Social Policy Director of Income and Work Supporters Elizabeth Lower-Basch said this kind of partnership can provide quality health care while still taking a complete look at other challenges a patient might face.
“Medical-legal partnerships are a promising way to help low-income patients address their non-medical needs, such as adequate food or safe housing, that have a large influence on their health,” Lower-Basch wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The Center for Law and Social Policy is pleased to see Georgetown undertaking this effort and incorporating a holistic approach to supporting patients and families in the training of future lawyers and doctors.”
Kelly Singleton (LAW ’17) said she was happy to hear about the creation of the partnership and predicted that the program could give GULC and GUMC students practical career experience while still allowing them to participating in social justice.
“The new initiative will not just serve our community, but expose Georgetown law and med students to real-world issues we don’t read about in casebooks or learn in lectures. I encourage all students to learn more about the program and participate if they can,” Singleton wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It’s yet another reason to be proud to be part of the Georgetown community.”
Stephanie Goldberg (LAW ’19) also expressed excitement about the opportunity to work personally with residents in the District.
“The Georgetown University Health Alliance is an exciting new opportunity for students to both further their personal academic interests in careers surrounding health and the law as well as gain unique hands-on experience which will directly connect the students with the local community,” Goldberg wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This program greatly reflects the university’s commitment to social good, opportunity for all, and justice, while providing students with top-notch, new and innovative learning offerings.”
Hoya Staff Writers May Teng and Olivia Chiu contributed reporting.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.