In 2011, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that recognizes the key role that Health-related Legal Service Programs can play in helping improve the quality of life of low-income New Yorkers struggling with chronic illnesses. Last week, the NY State Department of Health issued the standards required for an applicant to be officially designated as a Health-related Legal Service Program – making the new bill a practical reality in improving patient care and outcomes for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

Health-related Legal Service Programs, also known as medical-legal partnerships, bring pro bono legal services into a patient’s care regimen to address nonmedical problems, such as unstable housing or the lack of health insurance and other benefits, that impede treatment or recovery, or endanger a patient’s health. In these partnerships attorneys provide onsite free legal services to patients of the health care facility.

“A year ago New York became the first state to provide a legislative endorsement for health-related service programs – and today we applaud the state’s continued leadership in ensuring that legal advocacy is able to fulfill its promise as a critical component in improving the lives of poor and near-poor patients across our state, and serve as a role model for similar action in other states and at the Federal level,” said Randye Retkin, Founder and Chair of the New York State Coalition of Medical-Legal Partnerships and Director of LegalHealth.

The legislation was sponsored by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried and Senator Kemp Hannon, with the support of New York State’s Coalition of Medical-legal Partnerships and other advocacy groups including the UJA-Federation of New York.

“The establishment of program standards in New York is another great step forward for the medical-legal partnership movement,” said Ron Soloway of UJA-Federation. “As low-income patients and their families increasingly struggle with serious chronic health issues including asthma, heart disease and cancer, the need for legal advocacy to resolve practical needs that impact patient health, provided in the same locations as where people receive medical treatment can be a very important resource.”

The NY State Department of Health may designate Health-Related Legal Services Programs that demonstrate in writing that they meet certain standards, such as a demonstrated ability and experience to provide high quality, health-related legal services, a jointly executed agreement between health care providers and legal assistance organization, and adherence to codes of ethical conduct, among other criteria. There are an estimated forty such partnerships in operation across the state. The DOH standards and applications forms are posted on its website a