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Community Legal Aid and Commonwealth Care Alliance® (CCA) have announced a new partnership to assist low-income and elderly individuals and families in the greater Springfield area. The Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) between Community Legal Aid, a non-profit organization that provides free civil (non-criminal) legal services to low-income and elderly residents of Central and Western Massachusetts, and CCA, a national, multi-state healthcare organization with proven expertise in complex care coordination and delivery, is an innovative collaboration between the medical and legal communities that aims to address health-harming legal problems that impact social determinants of health (SDOH).

In the MLP model, medical providers are trained to spot situations where a patient’s medical needs may be improved by legal advocacy, and then work with the MLP attorney to help resolve them. Examples of health-harming legal problems include poor housing conditions or risk of eviction and homelessness; lack of access to public benefits resulting in food insecurity or financial instability; or the need for orders of protection for someone threatened by physical violence at home.

“Social determinants of health can significantly impact an individual’s mental and physical well-being, and this especially true for individuals with significant needs and/or limited financial means,” said Dr. Peggy Johnson, Vice President and Chief of Psychiatry at CCA. “For example, extreme and persistent stress associated with major financial constraints can lead to increases in blood pressure resulting in adverse medical events, such as a heart attack or stroke. In addition, individuals facing stressors such as legal issues are at increased risk for anxiety and depression. This partnership with Community Legal Aid can go a long way to reducing legal stress for individuals in the Springfield region and significantly improve their overall health.”

“Through this new collaboration with CCA, we are working to identify civil legal issues like evictions or access to public benefits that are negatively impacting the health and well-being of low-income and elderly residents of greater Springfield,” said MLP Staff Attorney Bex Bernocco. “The training and advocacy we will offer can provide much-needed stability and help these individuals and families focus on wellness.”

Bernocco holds office hours on Tuesday afternoons at CCA’s Springfield clinic to conduct screening interviews with members and their family/caregivers and meet staff to consult about their patients. Since the partnership began in April, Bernocco has provided training to more than 20 community health workers to help them identify health-harming civil legal problems of their patients, and generated nearly two-dozen referrals to Community Legal Aid in the partnership’s first six weeks.

To magnify the impact, Community Legal Aid will recruit, train, and supervise private pro bono (volunteer) attorneys to assist clients.  

“This is an exciting opportunity for the private legal community of Hampden County to directly impact the health and wellbeing of the community’s most vulnerable members,” said Meredith Palmer, Pro Bono Director at Community Legal Aid. The integration of legal expertise into healthcare settings provides a crucial opportunity to address structural barriers at the root of health inequities.”

To become a MLP volunteer, contact Meredith Palmer at [email protected].

About Community Legal Aid

CLA provides free civil legal services to the low-income and elderly residents of the five counties of Western and Central Massachusetts (Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, and Worcester), and maintains offices in Worcester, Fitchburg, Springfield, Northampton, and Pittsfield. CLA works to assure fairness for all in the justice system, protecting homes, livelihoods, health and families. For more information, please visit www.communitylegal.org.

About Commonwealth Care Alliance

Based in Boston, Commonwealth Care Alliance® (CCA) is a multi-state integrated care system influencing innovative models of complex care nationwide. Mission-based and person-centered, CCA focuses on sustainable and evidence-based healthcare breakthroughs that improve the health and well-being of people with significant needs, and advocates for affordable, high-quality, and cost-effective policies that lead to healthcare equity for individuals who need it most. The CCA care model is consistently recognized as one of the best in the country at finding and engaging traditionally hard-to-reach individuals­­—since 2016*, consumers have consistently rated CCA One Care as one of the best for overall experience and CMS rated CCA Senior Care Options 5 out of 5 stars for 2022. CCA recently began a multi-year, mission-aligned geographic diversification growth strategy to extend its proven care model throughout the United States, and now serves close to 62,000 individuals and operates health plans in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, California and Michigan. Learn more about CCA at www.commonwealthcarealliance.org/about-us or follow CCA on Twitter and LinkedIn.

*Based on the 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) surveys.

CCA Media Contact

Conor Yunits