Forging Pathways to Health Equity: Access Community Health Network (ACCESS)

Medical-Legal Partnerships (MLPs) are an innovative and collaborative approach to addressing complex challenges and health inequities faced by patients. By integrating legal services into healthcare settings, MLPs aim to identify and address the legal and social barriers that affect community health. Through collaboration and interdisciplinary support, these partnerships strive to create a more holistic and comprehensive approach to healthcare, improving patient well-being and fostering equitable outcomes for at-risk populations.

Legal Council for Health Justice’s medical-legal partnership at Access Community Health Network (ACCESS) exemplifies how combining legal advocacy and medical expertise promotes patient health and mitigates the systemic barriers that prevent individuals from accessing the care and resources they need.

We were fortunate to have interviewed two of our amazing ACCESS MLP team partners, Thomas Sanchez (Health & Community Integration Project Manager) and Hayley Willey (Care Coordinator). Their insights illustrate the critical role of these partnerships in enhancing patient well-being and addressing the social determinants of health.

Thomas Sanchez, MPH | Health and Community Integration Project Manager

We first spoke with Thomas Sanchez. In his leadership role, Thomas brings a unique perspective overseeing the partnership’s implementation and forging a collaborative environment.

Q:   What have been some of the key benefits of having a medical-legal partnership at ACCESS?

A:   Having a medical-legal partnership at ACCESS has been very beneficial to our patients and aligns well with our mission to achieve greater health equity by removing the barrier to legal assistance. Oftentimes, this critical support can help resolve an issue related to a patient’s overall health and well-being.

Thanks to this partnership, patients have access to legal expertise to help them navigate through complex legal issues, such as issues with public benefits and housing. For example, if a patient with asthma is having issues with a landlord who refuses to address a mold problem in their dwelling, often without legal support, that problem would never get resolved and the landlord would not be held accountable.

Q:   When managing this interdisciplinary team, how have you built good communication and collaboration between the legal and health teams?

A:   ACCESS and the Legal Council have monthly check-in meetings to share important updates and resources. Our Legal Council team Taylor [Belew] and Lena [Lazar] have also provided trainings to our health center teams to help them best refer patients and understand the benefits of legal assistance.

Through our Intranet, we are also working to create a resource hub for these efforts, which will house supporting documents, data, resources, and information about how to properly refer to the program.

Q:   From your perspective, what are the reasons other health centers and systems might want to consider incorporating an MLP into their sites?

A:   Health centers should consider a medical-legal partnership because it provides an extra lens into the issues patients are facing that may impact their overall health and well-being. Legal assistance may feel impossible for many of our patients to access or afford, so having the Legal Council’s free services and resources available within our health centers is extremely valuable to our patients and staff. It’s just one more way we can address social determinants of health and help improve the quality of life for our patients and communities.


Hayley Willey, RN BSN | Care Coordinator

We also spoke with Hayley Willey. As a Care Coordinator, Hayley plays a critical role as the link between health providers and patients. Hayley is able to develop a deep knowledge of patient’s medical histories, social circumstances, and individual challenges, enabling them to identify and address their specific needs more effectively.

Q:   Can you share any examples of a case where the medical-legal partnership made a significant impact on a patient’s care or well-being?

A:   The medical-legal partnership between ACCESS and the Legal Council has made a significant impact on our patients’ care and well-being. With Taylor and Lena’s assistance, a pregnant patient avoided an illegal eviction. They’ve also improved several patients’ health environment by getting landlords to fix toxic mold in their apartments. They frequently assist patients with Supplemental Security Income (SSI) appeals, which help provide financial security.

Q:   Can you share an example of how Taylor and Lena helped your team with a challenge you all were facing with patients? (Perhaps through training or technical assistance on an issue like housing or public benefits?)

A:   Taylor and Lena are valuable extensions of our care teams. Any detail or question we have about housing, public benefits, or tenant rights, they take the time to offer detailed explanations. If they don’t have the answers, they refer us to another excellent source. Not only have I learned so much from them, but I have better tools to help support my patients.

Q:   How do you think these partnerships could evolve or expand to meet the changing needs of patients or the community?

A:   Taylor and Lena have provided such a valuable impact on ACCESS’ care delivery model, and it would be great to expand this partnership to meet even more patient needs throughout the network. Within our communities, we are seeing a greater need for immigration assistance and an expanded partnership can help support that need and make a huge difference in our patients’ lives.

The medical-legal partnership between Legal Council for Health Justice and Access Community Health Network (ACCESS) exemplifies the transformative potential of integrating legal and healthcare services. Through our interviews with Thomas Sanchez and Hayley Willey, it is evident that these partnerships play a crucial role in addressing health disparities, removing legal barriers, and improving patient outcomes. As we continue to strive for health equity, it is vital to recognize the power of collaborative efforts and the positive impact they can have on individuals and communities alike.