Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
The Brownsville Community Health Center and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid have been recognized by the White House as Champions of Change for their Medico-Legal Partnership. The MLP model has emerged in recent years, growing from less than one hundred projects five years ago into a system that serves low-income patients in more than 235 hospitals and health centers around the country. It's a movement that grew from a fairly simple concept: that often patients who are poor need lawyers as well as doctors to address their medical conditions. A pediatrician in a health center in an impoverished community diagnoses a child as dyslexic, but realizes that the local school district is not providing special education services, or is frustrated because another child is not responding to asthma treatments because she lives in a mold-invested apartment. At the Brownsville Center, both of those patients are referred to the TRLA lawyer in the office down the hall, and legal advocacy for the family becomes part of the treatment protocol.
The Brownsville MLP reaches out to patients in one of the five poorest metropolitan areas in the country. Located about a mile from the Mexican border in deep South Texas, the Center sees over 20,000 patients a year, the vast majority of whom are uninsured and cannot afford medical care, much less legal assistance. These patients/clients desperately need the safe homes, proper nutrition, adequate educational services and public benefits that access to quality legal services can assure. Collaborating physicians and lawyers are able to leverage their professional talents to address a broad range of egregious issues that adversely affect the well-being of the families served.
MLPs have tremendous potential to transform the way we care for our country’s most vulnerable citizens, including low-income, chronically ill populations. Fortunately, many healthcare and legal providers have begun to recognize the value of the MLP delivery model. TRLA and the BCHC are proud to be part of a national network of pioneering MLP’s around the country. The National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership facilitates the national MLP Network, which includes programs in 38 states, and coordinates research and policy activities to support the ever-growing MLP movement.
Paula Gomez has served as the Executive Director of the Brownsville Community Health Center since 1984, a 17-provider community and migrant health center primarily situated in Brownsville with two school-based clinics and two other satellite clinics as well.
David Hall is the Executive Director of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.