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Headshot of Courtney Bernard

Courtney Bernard

  • Hosted by Georgetown University Health Justice Alliance
  • Sponsored by Merck & Co., Inc., Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
  • Service location Washington, District of Columbia
  • Law school Georgetown University Law Center
  • Issue area Economic Justice, Health Care, Medical-Legal Partnership
  • Fellowship class year 2023
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Through the Georgetown University Health Justice Alliance Perinatal Legal Assistance & Well-being (P-LAW) Project, Courtney (she/her/hers) will increase economic security for perinatal patients through direct legal representation, patient and provider education, and systemic advocacy.

Washington, D.C. has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, and Black patients experience higher rates of pregnancy-related death and preterm birth than white patients. Economic instability is a key driver of these health disparities, which can contribute to chronic stress, poor nutrition, and a higher risk of dangerous health conditions. While perinatal patients experiencing income insecurity often qualify for public benefits and child support, these programs are difficult to navigate and frequently require legal intervention to access. Courtney’s project seeks to reduce barriers to economic security for perinatal patients at MedStar Washington Hospital Center (MWHC), most of whom are Black and live in communities that are underserved by health and social services.

During law school, Courtney spent three semesters working on economic security legal issues with clients served by the Georgetown University Health Justice Alliance. Courtney was inspired to respond to the stress-inducing legal barriers that prevent many families from accessing critical benefits and income support.

Fellowship Plans

In partnership with P-LAW, Courtney will develop a new screening tool to determine if a patient is not fully accessing available benefits. She will represent patients who were wrongfully denied access in appeals. Courtney will also create a range of materials and opportunities for perinatal patients to understand their rights related to income support, including tailored “Know Your Rights” materials and a monthly “Ask an Attorney” walk-up table in the obstetrics waiting room at MWHC. To further the impact of her Fellowship, Courtney will engage patients and health care providers in advocacy efforts to improve the public benefit and child support systems in Washington, D.C.

Media

Morgan Lewis Co-Sponsors Three Public Service Equal Justice Works Fellowships

Economic security has the potential to improve health outcomes for parents and infants. Through this project, I look forward to helping perinatal patients start a new chapter of life with less stress and more stability.

Courtney Bernard /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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Megan Gordon

Host: Georgetown University Health Justice Alliance

Sponsor: The Art Lerner Memorial Fellowship

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Sponsor: McDermott Will & Emery LLP

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Dennis Hsieh

Host: Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County

Sponsor: Greenberg Traurig, LLP, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation