Henry McDonald

The Project

Henry’s (he/him) project will provide low-barrier, trauma-informed legal services to Boston-area young queer and transgender people of color by establishing a community-based HIV prevention medical-legal partnership.

This Fellowship bridges a long-existing service gap between two programs within Justice Resource Institute, Inc. (JRI) programs where, due to funding restrictions, many Boston Gay Lesbian Adolescent Social Services (GLASS) clients have been unable to access the legal services offered by the Health Law Institute (HLI). Boston GLASS offers HIV prevention services to Boston-area Queer, Trans, Black, and Indigenous people of color (QTBIPOC) ages 13-29. In Massachusetts, sharp racial disparities persist in measures of HIV risk: Hispanic/Latino individuals face nearly four times the risk of HIV infection than white individuals and Black individuals face nearly eight times the risk of white individuals. By extending HLI’s legal services to the clients at Boston GLASS, Henry will work in tandem with GLASS professionals to address the health-harming legal needs that tend to place the GLASS client population at heightened risk of HIV infection.

Henry is a gay man who has lived in the Boston area for almost all his life. He is interested in health justice, particularly as it pertains to HIV/AIDS.

Fellowship Plans

By extending HLI’s medical-legal partnership model to Boston GLASS, Henry will be able to meet community members where they are. He will work alongside skilled providers who have cultivated trusting relationships with clients to effectuate holistic, wrap-around, trauma-informed legal services. Henry will leverage this dynamic to provide advice, brief services, and full representation in housing, public benefits, and discrimination matters. He will also provide education and training to Boston GLASS staff and community members so that they can issue-spot health-harming legal needs and seek out appropriate resources. Henry will also build out HLI’s existing data collection and analysis capacity to promote the sustainability of the HIV prevention legal services model.

I am excited that this project moves HIV legal services upstream, focusing on HIV prevention in a medical-legal partnership model. But I am even more excited that this project allows me to support queer and trans people in my community.

Henry McDonald /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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

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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

The Project

Dawn (she/her) will help tackle the legal needs of South Jersey residents with opioid and other substance use disorders (SUDs) by providing direct legal services, developing and sharing resources, and advocating for systemic change, with a particular focus on housing justice and tenant rights.

The opioid crisis continues to exact a devastating toll on South Jersey residents. Patients seeking treatment must address the medical and psychological impact of addiction, as well as the myriad of legal issues stemming from years of active use. Dawn’s Fellowship will expand legal offerings to practices and clinics serving primarily Black and Hispanic Camden residents with substance use disorders. She will also include educational, reform, and advocacy components to amplify its impact. This work includes providing education to patients and medical professionals regarding legal issues as well as trainings for attorneys and courts regarding substance use disorder.

Dawn draws from her lived experience as a person with substance use disorder and the adversities she faced in overcoming the obstacles in early recovery. She has strong ties to the South Jersey area and is excited to be based in Camden.

Fellowship Plans

Dawn will represent SUD patients facing civil legal needs including housing, child welfare, family law issues such as child custody and DV, and benefits. She will also develop and pursue policy reforms to address identified issues for New Jersey SUD patients with a particular focus on housing justice.

It is a gift to work with others who are where I once was: experiencing the daunting task of rebuilding their lives. It is critical to offer holistic support to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients and our communities.

Dawn Ericksen /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Milo’s (he/him/his) project will provide holistic legal representation to low-income transgender clients in Chicago facing insurance coverage denials for transition-related medical care.

Transgender people face significant barriers to obtaining transition-related healthcare. Despite the overwhelming consensus of medical associations and clinicians that transition-related healthcare is effective, medically necessary, and often life-saving, transgender patients must navigate a complex and ever-changing array of health insurance policies to obtain coverage for surgery, while simultaneously attempting to update their names and gender markers on identification documents. Furthermore, the poverty rate for transgender people is 29%, twice that of the general population. Lack of economic security compounds issues of access to medical care for low-income transgender people, who also face barriers to public assistance access. Without comprehensive legal assistance across these issues, many transgender people are barred from essential medical care, economic security, and full civic participation.

Milo’s experiences fighting for his own and others’ healthcare have shown him the power of legal advocacy to create meaningful change in people’s lives.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Milo will utilize the medical-legal partnership between Legal Council for Health Justice and Howard Brown Health to provide holistic legal services to transgender clients. He will represent clients facing insurance denials for transition-related healthcare. He will offer legal assistance with the processes of name and gender marker changes on vital records. Additionally, he will advocate for clients’ economic security by providing comprehensive legal assistance with public benefits.

Media

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Trans people are in the practice of relying on each other for access to medical care and other resources. This project is an extension of that mutual support.

Milo Vieland /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Majesta-Doré’s (she/her/hers) project will partner Legal Aid Justice Center with VCU Health System’s Emergency Department and nearby low-fee community clinics to combat health-harming legal needs that perpetuate health disparities in Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia.

Healthcare access is fraught for patients with low-income, non-citizen status, and other marginalized identities. Health Justice requires removing discriminatory barriers and providing broader access to legal tools before health-harming legal needs reach crisis level.

Despite VCU Health System consistently ranking in the top 100 medical centers in the country, Richmond and Petersburg County rank at the bottom in the 2021 health rankings. Social determinants of health, such as the high eviction rate, barriers in stable access to care, and access to lifeline benefits such as TANF and SNAP all contribute to these outcomes. Medical-legal partnerships improve patient outcomes, overall wellness, and reduce health disparities.

Majesta-Doré’s experience living with chronic illnesses and navigating the complicated U.S. healthcare system strengthens her resolve to combat barriers to stable access to care.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Majesta-Doré will establish a medical-legal partnership with VCU Health System to provide wrap-around legal services to patients in the Emergency Department. In the MLP, Majesta-Doré will counsel patients on health insurance appeals, appeal improper denials of public benefits, and train medical providers to spot legal needs warranting referral. Majesta-Doré will also work with community partners to provide community education about access to care.

Social determinants of health can change the trajectory of someone’s entire life. No one should have to choose between two life essentials because they need healthcare.

Majesta-Doré Legnini /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Audrey is advocating for gender-based violence survivors by expanding the Sanctuary for Families EMPOWER Center, making it the first Medical-Legal Partnership in New York City to provide family law representation to survivors of sex and labor trafficking.

Estimates for the population of human trafficking survivors in New York City are in the thousands, yet only 338 cases were reported and confirmed in 2020. One of the biggest reasons for this disparity is that survivors fear that, by coming forward, they may risk violent retaliation from their abusers and losing custody of their children. New York’s child welfare system disproportionately separates Black, immigrant, and low-income families, and often penalizes survivors who find themselves particularly vulnerable to ongoing abuse. Being able to access an interdisciplinary team of anti-trafficking attorneys, social workers, and medical providers who can address essential family law issues is critical in supporting trafficking survivors.

When survivors don’t have access to advocates to help them protect themselves and their children, it sends a clear message: their experiences are not important enough for representation. Survivors deserve safety, to remain together as a family, and holistic support to achieve their goals.

Audrey’s social work background in advocating for survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking has motivated her to continue combating gender-based violence through direct legal services.

Fellowship Plans

As a Fellow, Audrey will combat gender-based violence by providing representation through direct services, training to expand the network of legal support available, and policy advocacy to address institutional discrimination against BIPOC survivors in the removal and termination of parental rights processes. This project will also include family reunification for formerly incarcerated survivors and resources for collateral civil legal services related to surviving abuse.

I believe that every survivor deserves to be safe, free of abuse, and empowered to make decisions for themselves and their families. Our legal system can and must do more to pursue true gender, racial, and economic equity for survivors by uplifting and listening to their needs.

Audrey J. Hertzberg /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Maya (she/her/hers) will establish a farmworker Medical-Legal Partnership hosted by the Central West Justice Center and in partnership with the Connecticut River Valley Farmworker Health Program to provide holistic care and advocacy in housing, benefits, and employment matters to farmworkers in Massachusetts.

Thousands of farmworkers in Western Massachusetts work for long hours and low pay to put food on our tables. In addition to extremely hazardous labor, farmworkers are twice as likely to live in severe poverty, face housing instability, poor living conditions, and food insecurity. Some farmworkers are also isolated and difficult to reach through traditional legal aid models. Maya’s project will develop and implement a Medical-Legal Partnership to address farmworkers’ unmet legal needs and work with medical clinic staff to improve the health and wellbeing of farmworkers and their families.

Maya is passionate about improving access to critical services for farmworkers in her community and aims to use her legal education to fight for the health justice and legal rights of this underserved population.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Maya will represent farmworker clients with their housing, benefits, and employment needs. She will be on-site in the farmworker medical clinic to provide advice and consultation to farmworkers. Maya will also engage with farmworkers and other organizations to conduct outreach and training on the rights and resources available to farmworkers. Finally, Maya will engage in policy advocacy on issues impacting farmworker health at the state and national levels.

Media

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Farmworkers are one of the most essential and underserved populations in Massachusetts. Having grown up in Springfield, I am proud to develop a model of holistic services to improve the health and well-being of farmworkers living in my community.

Maya McCann /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Bavani (she/her/hers) will create an innovative medical-legal partnership addressing the health inequities of Los Angeles’ underserved Asian Pacific Islander (API) population through language access and culturally informed legal services.

In Los Angeles County, approximately 43% of Asian Pacific Islanders are limited in their English proficiency, which can serve as an insurmountable barrier to obtaining basic needs. Language barriers, heightened racism, and generational poverty translate to a high prevalence of negative health outcomes and limited access to justice for the API community. Evidence-based research has proven that such racism and language barriers are fundamental causes of racial health disparities. Although medical-legal partnerships have been successful in addressing the social determinants of health, they often lack a race-conscious lens to account for racial health inequities. This project seeks to improve API health outcomes by improving culturally competent and linguistically accessible practices and reducing institutional barriers to care.

Fellowship Plans

Bavani will create a medical-legal service pathway within the existing healthcare structure of Community Medical Wellness Center and provide holistic legal services to Asian Pacific Islander patients. In addition to direct legal services, she will also conduct legal screening trainings for healthcare staff and host legal clinics. She will employ a race-conscious lens to challenge existing structures of poverty and unequal power within the legal and medical systems.

Media

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Health justice cannot be achieved without prioritizing racial justice. It is my firm belief that every individual is entitled to equitable, quality care.

Bavani Sridhar /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Through a medical-legal partnership between the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia and MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s Community Violence Intervention Program, MJ (they/them/theirs) will provide civil legal help to survivors of gun violence and collaborate on systemic advocacy efforts with clients and colleagues.

Gun violence negatively impacts hundreds of Washington D.C. residents every year. 81% of gun violence survivors receiving services from MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s Community Violence Intervention Program have at least one unmet civil legal need. Many survivors do not seek legal help due to distrust of lawyers and the legal system. Survivors of gun violence are at risk for reinjury and retaliatory violence when their civil legal needs go unmet.

Fellowship Plans

Through one of the first medical-legal partnerships in the country with a hospital-based violence intervention program, MJ and their colleagues from the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia will promote the recovery and stability of gun violence survivors through trauma-informed civil legal services and systemic advocacy. Areas of civil legal help will include public benefits support, criminal record expungement, consumer debt relief, and family and housing law matters. Systemic advocacy will address chronic barriers to stability faced by gun violence survivors, such as food and income security, homelessness, access to healthcare, and the collateral consequences of over-policing and over criminalization.

Media

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I want to be part of efforts to address community violence through compassion and harm reduction rather than criminalization and incarceration.

MJ Smith /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Allen (he/him/his) will mitigate veteran homelessness in rural Central Texas by implementing a Medical-Legal Partnership at a VA Clinic to meet legal needs related to housing, discharge upgrades, and financial and familial stability.

Many rural veterans in Central Texas face the risk of homelessness, struggling to meet needs associated with food, housing, and financial security, among others. These needs directly cause health issues and prevent veterans from maintaining their health, such as attending regular check-ups. A Medical-Legal Partnership with a rural VA Clinic will bring legal services to rural veterans to improve their health by addressing their health-harming legal needs. In doing so, the Medical-Legal Partnership will mitigate veteran homelessness.

Allen’s commitment to increasing access to justice for Texans drives him to advocate for underserved populations, including low-income rural veterans.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Allen will screen veteran patients for health-harming legal needs and provide legal services at the VA Clinic. Additionally, he will provide Know Your Rights seminars for the veterans, conduct trainings on recognizing health-harming legal needs for VA staff, and collaborate with community service organizations to maximize the positive impact on veterans’ legal and physical health.

As a family member of medical professionals, I feel strongly about closing the justice gap at the intersection of health and law for underserved rural veterans, who themselves have committed their lives to service of others.

Allen Martin /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow