Alison Roberts

The Project

Alison (she/her/hers) connects Bronx Residents to the public benefits they need through a new medical-legal partnership, working with community organizations to identify barriers and advocate for improvements to public benefits.

As the borough with the most COVID-19 hospitalizations and the highest unemployment rate, the Bronx was hit hard by the pandemic. One in seven residents were infected with COVID-19 before the Omicron wave in late 2021. Alison’s project will leverage legal tools in partnership with community organizations to ensure that pandemic recovery in the Bronx is equitable.

Fellowship Plans

Alison’s project aims to improve two core social determinants of health: economic stability and healthcare access, for Bronx residents through an innovative medical-legal partnership. Her Fellowship has three core goals: increasing access to public benefits (especially medical benefits) to enable pandemic recovery; addressing systemic challenges faced by benefits program participants; and combining community lawyering with medical-legal partnerships.

As someone who has benefited immensely from public benefits like the GI bill, I know our social safety net can work for people if we design it that way. I’m excited to improve access to benefits now while pushing the system to be better in the future.

Alison Roberts /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ndome (she/her/hers) will expand access to maternal healthcare for low-income pregnant people and women of color by addressing legal barriers to midwifery care through impact litigation, policy advocacy, legal research, and community education. 

The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality ratio among developed nations. Black women are nearly four times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related causes, and Indigenous women are more than twice as likely. Unlike many other wealthy nations where midwives care for most birthing people, the U.S. has imposed medically unnecessary legal and financial barriers to midwifery services. As the COVID-19 pandemic strains health systems and further endangers maternal health, addressing these barriers has become more urgent than ever. 

Midwifery care has the potential to address many barriers to safe and respectful maternal health care. Expanded access to midwifery care, including more midwives of color, can equitably improve maternal health outcomes and enable low-income pregnant people of color to make meaningful decisions about where, how, and with whom they will birth. 

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Ndome will explore bringing forth a proactive, constitutional challenge to laws that restrict midwives’ practice and birthing people’s access to midwives. Additionally, she will monitor, track, advocate, and analyze proposed legislation at the state and federal level that may impact the ability of low-income people to access midwifery care. 

Media

Reducing Inequalities, Advancing Human Rights

I believe that reproductive rights are human rights and should be treated as such.

Ndome Essoka /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Alexandra expands healthcare access for immigrant communities who are experiencing low-income situations in Massachusetts through direct legal representation, policy advocacy, and community outreach.

Through the Public Charge rule, non-U.S. citizens could have their admission to the United States denied or their applications for lawful permanent residency refused. In March 2021, it was announced that the 2019 Public Charge Final Rule would no longer be in effect. Despite the end of that rule, immigrants still fear its effects and do not to enroll in or upgrade their health insurance coverage, incurring unaffordable medical debt or a lack of access to medical services due to being uninsured or underinsured. Alexandra works to identify and alleviate these barriers to healthcare access.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Alexandra has:

  • Grown the project into a fully operational Medical-Legal Partnership for Immigrants with Rian Immigrant Center and Boston Medical Center, and Alexandra receives legal referrals from Boston Medical Center.
  • Alexandra has provided brief advice and full representation to 68 clients in healthcare access, unaffordable medical debt, and insurance enrollment cases.
  • She has given five trainings on the intersection of health insurance eligibility and immigration.
  • She has been active in three legislative coalitions focused on healthcare access for immigrants, healthcare access for young people, language access, and Medicaid reform and contributed to policy-based efforts to alleviate barriers to healthcare for immigrants.

Next Steps

In the next year, Alexandra plans to:

  • Continue to provide direct representation to clients in their insurance enrollment, unaffordable medical debt, and health insurance access.
  • Assist in the expansion of the Medical-Legal Partnership to two additional health providers.
  • Develop pro bono clinics for her sponsors and volunteer lawyers and law students.
  • Take an active role in policy advocacy initiatives in the policy coalitions she works with, and identify new coalitions to work with, to increase the project’s profile within immigrant communities.

Media

Bor-Zale, Nawab and Warren Awarded Equal Justice Works Fellowships

As the daughter of an immigrant who received support from initiatives similar to this project, I feel compelled to continue to address the barriers to healthcare that low-income immigrants face.

Alexandra Warren /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ashley provided direct legal services, deepened collaboration among providers, and advocated for systems change for people who have complex medical, legal, and social needs while living in poverty in Southern NJ.

With roughly 40 percent of Camden’s residents living in poverty, the city has significant rates of asthma, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other life-threatening diseases. Legal issues in all functional domains represent significant barriers to improving health and overall quality of life. This project aimed to strengthen collaboration between the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers and Rutgers Law School, to offer innovative, targeted multi-disciplinary approaches to empower individuals with complex needs.

After working in social services for several years before attending law school, Ashley began to recognize a dire need for lawyers who were sensitive to the experiences of individuals with severe mental and physical health conditions. She pursued a career in law to address this need, intending to offer holistic, practical, individualized, and accessible legal services.

Fellowship Highlights

Through her fellowship, Ashley provided direct legal support to over a hundred individuals with complex health and social needs. She utilized her clients’ expressed priorities and trends from her on-the-ground work to engage in effective client-centered policy advocacy. Ashley shared findings from this practice-to-policy approach with the medical and legal communities. Demonstrating the need for housing-related legal support during the pandemic, Ashley’s efforts culminated in the MLP receiving a $300,000 grant to expand eviction prevention work to a broader patient population through an innovative referral model.

Next Steps

Ashley will remain at the Medical-Legal Partnership through the end of 2021, taking on the role of Staff Attorney. She will continue prioritizing housing-related legal needs, as the end of the eviction moratorium makes eviction prevention more critical than ever.

Media

Rutgers Law School’s Medical-Legal Partnership Helps Resolve Complex Care Issues for South Jersey Residents

Ashley Maddison RLAW '19 Helps Clients Through the Camden Medical-Legal Partnership

Patients-to-Policy Learning Collaborative Part II: Applying the MLP approach to Housing for Patients with Complex Needs

I am passionate about uniting communities to tackle systemic barriers to improved health and life outcomes.

Ashley Maddison /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Provide comprehensive legal services tailored to trafficking victims with physical and psychological health concerns through direct representation, outreach to health providers and policy advocacy.

New York City is a major hub for both domestic and international trafficking, and victims of trafficking are often hidden from society and from service providers. Currently, most victims access legal services only upon referral from law enforcement, usually after an arrest. A lack of training and a coordinated referral network are principle barriers to medical providers identifying trafficking and connecting patients with legal services.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Whitney has:

  • Represented 33 survivors of human trafficking in immigration, civil and criminal matters.
  • In partnership with doctors, designed a curriculum and pilot project training health care providers on human trafficking and trained over 185 doctors, nurses, medical students and socials workers.
  • Advocated at local, state, federal, and international forums for improved responses to human trafficking and improved services for victims.

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Whitney plans to:

  • Continue serving immigrant survivors of gender violence through trauma-informed and holistic service provision and advocating for improved policies affecting immigrant’s rights and women’s rights.

The Project

Isabel provided legal representation and conducted outreach to low-income immigrant survivors of domestic violence in underserved outlying Pennsylvania counties.

Lack of stable immigration status is a frequent and often insurmountable barrier to leaving an abusive relationship for many survivors of domestic violence. Pathways to stable immigration status exist that enable survivors to seek out safety and self-sufficiency away from their abusers. However before Isabel became a fellow roughly 30% of Pennsylvania’s immigrants were living in counties where there were almost no affordable immigration legal service providers. This meant that many survivors and their advocates were unaware of these pathways or had no way to secure them. Isabel educated community organizations in these counties to identify individuals in need of services.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship period:

  • Isabel provided immigration representation to 70 individuals including survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and their family members
  • Isabel provided brief legal orientations to an additional 54 immigrants regarding their rights and eligibility for relief based on domestic violence and sexual assault
  • Isabel and her sponsors created educational materials for social service providers to help them support immigrant survivors of domestic violence
  • Isabel built and strengthened referral partnerships with 5 social service organizations operating in the geographic area and collaborated with an additional 8 organizations to serve clients.

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Isabel will continue on as a staff attorney at HIAS Pennsylvania representing survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, addressing the overwhelming need for services that her Fellowship exposed.

The Project

Rachel provided legal assistance to domestic violence survivors in New York City who wished to appeal adverse decisions in Family or Supreme Court.

New York hears more than 60,000 domestic violence cases every year. When judges rule against a domestic violence victim, she still has one valuable legal right: the right to an appeal. Without a lawyer’s assistance, pursuing an appeal is extremely difficult and, most women do not do so. There were no attorneys in New York dedicated to bringing domestic violence appeals on behalf of poor women and their children. This project aimed to cure that in the hopes of creating binding precedent to help survivors of domestic violence. Providing access to legal representation for appeals would not only provide a path for relief for each individual client, but it would also create precedential law for survivors.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship period, Rachel:

  • Represented more than 10 clients in affirmative and defensive appeals, and more than 50 clients at the trial court level
  • Won an affirmative appeal that she argued in front of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division – Second Department
  • Helped clients obtain orders of protection, custody of their children, child support, and divorces in New York Family and Supreme Courts
  • Evaluated cases for appeal and began the appellate process for each case
  • Conducted several trainings for attorneys and interns to explain the appellate procedure

Next Steps

Rachel continues to represent survivors of domestic violence at the New York Legal Assistance Group, with plans to continue and expand the appellate representation project.