By Andrea Leonhardt
NYC Health + Hospitals is expanding its on-site legal services to better serve immigrant patients by offering immigration-focused provisions at seven of its sites, including East Flatbush’s Kings County Hospital and Gotham Health in East New York.
The new service builds on an existing partnership between the health system and LegalHealth, a subdivision of the New York Legal Assistance Group, which has provided free legal assistance to New Yorkers seeking help with housing, public benefits, health insurance, family law and employment since 2002.
“Helping provide legal services is an important way for us to uphold our mission — promoting the health of all our patients, regardless of immigration status or ability to pay,” said Dave Chokshi, MD, vice president and chief Population health officer at NYC Health + Hospitals. “Taking care of the whole patient sometimes means helping them handle legal concerns, which may be impeding their ability to lead healthy lives.”
The expansion of the immigration-focused services, which first launched in 2017, is funded by the New York City Council. Hospitals and health centers will offer patients legal support to address matters related to residency, citizenship, visas, asylum and concerns regarding the pending federal “public charge” proposal, a proposed rule change that would make it harder for immigrants to obtain visas or green cards based on the government’s assumption that they are likely in need for Medicaid coverage or other public benefits.
“Free and reliable immigration legal services are critically important given the current political situation in the U.S.,” said Randye Retkin, director of LegalHealth. “We at LegalHealth are grateful to have the opportunity to provide these services, in partnership with Health + Hospitals, to many patients who are living in fear and in need, and who might not otherwise be able to assert their legal rights.”
The medical-legal partnership between NYC Health + Hospitals and NYLAG also provides attorney-led trainings of healthcare and social service providers. Over the past 24 months, NYLAG has trained almost 800 staff and community partners on immigration issues. Referrals to attorneys are typically coordinated by the hospitals’ social workers and can be secured within one or two weeks.
City Councilmember Mathieu Eugene, who represents the 40th District including Crown Heights, Flatbush and East Flatbush, thanked NYC Health + Hospitals and LegalHealth for expanding their legal services.
“The hardworking members of the immigrant community deserve the best medical and legal services available,” said Eugene. “By expanding the on-site services available to our immigrant residents, we are providing a much-needed benefit to them and their families. It is my hope that by working together we can continue to increase the availability of legal services for those most in need.”
Originally published in BKReader on May 2, 2019.