Document Type


Publication Date



George Washington University, School of Public Health and Health Services, Department of Health Policy


Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative Policy Research Brief No. 18


Safety Net; Community Health Centers; Legal; Health Reform


Medical-legal partnerships (MLPs), now available at over 180 hospitals and health centers across 38 states, are an important option for addressing the legal needs affecting low-income and vulnerable patients, and thereby improving their overall health. We estimate that each year, anywhere between 50 and 85 percent of health centers users - or between ten and 17 million people - experience unmet legal needs, many of which negatively impact their health. In a medical-legal partnership, health care staff at hospitals, clinics, and other sites are trained to screen for health-related legal issues, refer the patient to an affiliated lawyer or legal services team as necessary, and work with the attorney to resolve problems that impact patient health. Medical-legal partnerships assist patients with securing health care and other public benefits, addressing housing issues and family problems, and other concerns that can affect one's health and are often more successfully remedied through legal, rather than medical, channels. This brief examines the role medical-legal partnerships can play in addressing the unmet legal needs negatively affecting the health of health center patients.


Funder: Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation and United Health Foundation.

Open Access