COVID-19 has been catastrophic for the wellbeing of low-income Americans, particularly in communities of color. The costs to health and human life have been devastating and the substantial collateral damage on the financial and social fabric of the country is expected to be felt into 2021 and beyond. One of this country’s leading hospitals, Mount Sinai, is addressing the legal needs of its patients through the Mount Sinai Medical Legal Partnership (MSMLP).  Serving one of the most diverse populations of any hospital, MSMLP addresses critical and urgent legal needs that may be affecting a patient’s health such as income maintenance, housing, education and employment, legal status and personal and family stability. This vital work is needed now more than ever.

To this end, Bloomberg and Proskauer are sponsoring Equal Justice Works Fellow Rita Gilles who will work at MSMLP under the supervision of the LegalHealth division of New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG). Rita, a recent graduate of Yale Law School, will provide legal aid to low-income families of children and adolescent patients at Mount Sinai.

At a virtual kick-off event last week, lawyers and staff from Bloomberg and Proskauer came together to make a commitment to the initiative beyond simple sponsorship: Rita will play a key role in identifying and overseeing pro bono matters for Bloomberg and Proskauer lawyers tackling serious legal issues facing patients. With a demonstrated rise in unemployment, poverty, and food insecurity along with an increasing number of people facing eviction over the coming months, the corresponding legal needs have continued to mount.

These legal needs are typically identified by training medical providers to flag potential social determinants of health (SDOH), which include a patient’s socioeconomic status, physical environment, health behaviors, and health care quality. Accordingly, a patient may require assistance with disputing an eviction, securing Social Security benefits, or filing an order of protection against a perpetrator of abuse, among many other problems necessitating the intervention of an attorney. For example, a Mount Sinai doctor may notice a persistent respiratory problem in one of their patients, raising a question regarding the patient’s home environment; the patient reveals rampant, unaddressed mold in their apartment, prompting the connection to MSMLP for a pro bono legal professional’s support in pursuing a housing repair action in Housing Court.

This partnership among several institutions, focusing on the legal needs that affect the health and safety of those most vulnerable, is critically important during a time of crisis but will be no less important to sustain post pandemic. Rita’s fellowship is a great example of the vital role of the private sector in securing equal access to justice.

Proskauer is grateful to Bloomberg for its leadership. We further acknowledge and thank Allison Charney (Executive Director of MSMLP), Beth Essig (Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Mount Sinai), Eric Hassell (NYLAG) and Krista Selnau (Equal Justice Works) who all made this important initiative possible. Proskauer labor and employment partners Betsy Plevan and Harris Mufson are spearheading this effort as board members of MSMLP.