The recently described Neighborhood Legal Information Centers in New York (Posted on December 4, 2015 by Richard Zorza) represent a major step forward in helping the disadvantaged. Proximity of help from advocates for common legal problems offers a big advantage. This concrete action in poor areas shows a demonstrable commitment to justice for everyone.
From my medical viewpoint, I was struck by coincidental recommendations in my book that is due out soon: Talking About SINGLE PAYER. During interviews for the book, several authorities stressed to me the importance of education as a contributor to good health, in addition to access to medical care. Thus, I recommended that schools and local medical clinics would do well to associate in the same setting. Moreover, the burden of social inequality that limits practical capacity to address financial and legal matters in many neighborhoods could also compromise the benefits of access to education and health care. So I proposed in the book that services for routine legal problems could be co-located with public schools in addition to facilities for education and everyday minor health care.
Having the Neighborhood Legal Information Centers described by Chief Judge Lippman situated as part of a school and medical clinic complex could be helpful for routine logistics, perhaps lower overall expenses for the facilities, and provide easier access for more than one service for different friends or family members in the same visit. Co-localization in the same complex could benefit each service and might help maintain the underlying financial support for that is critical for all three efforts.
And the advantages will go beyond simple logistics.
These three programs serve parallel, potentially interrelated, needs. Improving successful cost-effective solutions for any one of them is likely to mutually facilitate improvement in the other issues.
In addition, educational part-time jobs for older students could be made available in these multi-purpose units, which would provide them experience in being a constructive part of the community. The analogy is to school shop and “home economics” classes, which, sadly, may now provide less commonly useful preparation for today’s job market. Skills learned by students in the schools in these complexes, perhaps as interns to the volunteers, may help keep more teen-agers on track to finish high school and provide some interest and background for continuing education.
Grouping education, health, and legal support recognizes their special character. Other public programs, such as roads, bridges, buildings, and general financial help (food stamps, SCHIP) are generally all impersonal. Education, health care and legal services all entail intrinsic personal human involvement by program personnel with the individuals being helped. The power of a joint commitment to help in all of these ways will boost neighborhood morale and further understanding of problems and solutions for effective use of social support resources.
Editor’s note: Jim retired Professor John Hopkins Medical School and retired Director Health Resources and Services, Division of Transplantation, HHS.