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Published on November 01, 2011

Success of Medical-Legal Partnership Between Crozer-Keystone Program and Widener School of Law Results in Another Year of Funding


Crozer-Keystone Healthy Start, part of Women and Children’s Health Services, recently received another grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to continue its medical-legal partnership with Widener University School of Law.

Crozer-Keystone Healthy Start links under-served pregnant women, parents, families and caregivers of children under 24 months to appropriate health, human and social services.

The partnership program with Widener is known as HELP MLP (Health, Education, and Legal Assistance Project/Medical-Legal Partnership). HELP MLP provides free legal services that improve program participants’ health and well-being. The programs measure the effect on participants’ health by comparing stress and sleep levels pre- and post-service. Two public health experts from Thomas Jefferson University evaluate HELP MLPs impact on participants’ health and satisfaction each year. Crozer-Keystone is one of only three Healthy Start programs in the country to receive this competitive grant.

“This program is truly incredible,” says Joanne Craig, Director of Women and Children’s Health Services. “Everyone works so hard and dedicates a lot of time to help these individuals. It means the world to us, and we are very happy that we received enough money to keep the program alive. We have changed many lives for the better, and we hope to be able to continue this partnership for a long time.”

The grant funds a legal team, founded at Widener University School of Law. The team consists of a full time and part-time attorney, a part-time program director, public health evaluators and a public health law specialist as well as Widener students from the School of Law, some who are pursuing dual degrees in other disciplines (such as Psychology or Public Health). HELP MLP provides legal services to patients/program participants and legal training to the Crozer-Keystone Healthy Start staff. By training the staff to identify legal needs and appropriately refer Healthy Start clients to the attorneys, HELP MLP and Crozer-Keystone case managers work together to provide comprehensive legal and social assistance to improve the health and well-being of program participants.

The HRSA grant required the creation of measurable objectives, all of which were exceeded in the past year. Some of these goals and results included:

  • Goal: To provide legal services in at least 75 cases benefiting at least 100 program participants
  • Result: The program provided services in 99 cases/legal consultations, benefitting 150 individuals.
  • Goal: To train six students to teach them the value of public service and how the social determinants of health impact the lives of poor people.  
    Result: 14 students from Widener School of Law participated in the course at the Law School and performed services on behalf of clients in Chester. 
  • Goal: To conduct 12 staff trainings that would help the Healthy Start staff become more knowledgeable with the legal dimensions of the cases that were brought to them
  • Result: They held 14 different trainings were held on a variety of legal topics including public benefits, family law, Social Security, and Medicaid.

HELP MLP helped participants in cases related to housing, public benefits, medical assistance, employment and civil rights. Dan Atkins, co-Director of HELP MLP and adjunct professor at Widener University School of Law, co-founded the project because “over eighty percent of the civil legal problems of the poor go unmet.  In Chester, the need is overwhelming. HELP: MLP takes an inter-disciplinary, holistic, approach to addressing the social determinants of health. By partnering with Crozer-Keystone Healthy Start, we are able to use the law to help parents obtain health insurance, remain housed, and receive the public benefits to which they are entitled.”  

Based on evaluation results conducted by a team of pubic health experts at Thomas Jefferson University, the project’s goal – to assist program participants with legal problems which, if un-remediated, can negatively impact their health and well-being – is being achieved. Seventy-five percent of participants who responded to follow-up surveys reported that their overall stress level decreased after legal intervention. Also, 67 percent of participants reported that both their health and their child’s health improved following receiving legal services.

“Fueling our success, and ultimately an amazing partnership, are two very willing, dedicated and interested organizations working together to provide assistance and to bridge the gap between the two respected fields,” Craig says. “Some of the cases were very time-consuming, and it is often hard to multi-task when you are handling such important issues. The trainings provided to our staff made us more knowledgeable in the legal aspect of these cases, and it also made us realize things that we can and cannot do for our clients. Having the attorneys around relieved a lot of stress for our employees.”

Before the program was in place, case managers had to spend massive amounts of their time struggling with the legal dimensions of the problems or to refer these problems outside the program, without being sure if the problems would be resolved. Now, in addition to having access to legal services they otherwise would not have, eligible participants also benefit from the preventive approach to legal services taken by the HELP: MLP attorneys.

According to Laura Handel, staff attorney for the program, “This is an approach to legal advocacy that is somewhat unique to MLPs. We practice a holistic form of legal advocacy, where we legally ‘treat’ our clients as whole persons, not merely isolated legal issues. As legal aid attorneys, we seek to help increase underserved clients’ access to justice in crisis situations, but the missions of MLP attorneys is also to help improve the overall health and quality of life for our clients and their families.”

To do this, she says, “We proactively screen clients for what are often multiple unmet legal needs operating in tandem to keep individuals and their families entrenched in financial or medical hardship. If we discover that clients are facing these additional unmet legal needs, instead of addressing only the problem they originally sought help with and stopping there, we strive to assist the client to resolve those additional legal issues as well.”

In addition to Healthy Start, Women and Children’s Health Services oversees the Nurse-Family Partnership; the Children’s Health Connection Reminder Program; Cribs for Kids; and the Hispanic Resource Center.

For more information about Crozer-Keystone Healthy Start or any other Women and Children’s Health Services program, call (610) 497-7460 or e-mail For more information about Widener Law’s public-service legal programs in Delaware or Pennsylvania call (302) 477-2175 or visit

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