December 7, 2023

Safe, secure housing is a must for health

We offer housing-related legal help to prevent evictions and remove barriers to good health.

A patient concerned about eviction or housing may need legal help.

D.K. (only his initials are used to protect his privacy), a Kaiser Permanente member in Baltimore, was working as a mental health counselor when he began having serious heart complications.

In the summer of 2022, he had a heart attack. It was his third in 3 years. He realized that he would be unable to return to work due to his health condition.

Without a job, D.K. couldn’t pay his bills, including his rent. Eviction was looming.

He shared his concern that he might lose his housing with his cardiac care team. His care team referred him to a lawyer for help.

Health care teams don’t traditionally provide legal help. However, at Kaiser Permanente, we work with local legal aid organizations. These medical-legal partnerships allow us to connect patients to legal help when they need it. In this case, the patient was referred to a staff attorney at Maryland Legal Aid.

Our front-line health care employees and other staff members are trained to identify legal issues that might affect a patient’s health. Issues we watch out for include:

  • Evictions
  • Unsafe housing conditions
  • Disability benefit denials
  • Personal safety concerns such as domestic abuse

Patients who receive a referral from their Kaiser Permanente care team get legal help at no cost.

Offering legal help for housing-related issues and more

We began establishing medical-legal partnerships in 2021 in collaboration with the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership and HealthBegins. Through these partnerships, legal aid attorneys help members navigate complex housing law and other civil laws. Our goal is to resolve patients’ legal issues to improve their overall health.

We’re finding that most members who need legal help need it for housing and public utility issues. For example, someone might need help resolving a dispute with their landlord. Since 2021, we’ve connected more than 1,800 members to housing-related legal help.

Care teams can also refer patients for some nonhousing issues. About one in every 6 members who need legal help need it for income and insurance issues. For example, we help people apply for Social Security.

A smaller percentage of referrals is for patients seeking help with other issues like applying for unemployment or preparing for immigration hearings.

Expanding to more areas

We currently have medical-legal partnerships and support legal aid organizations in Baltimore; Portland, Oregon; Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Vallejo, California; Denver; and on Oahu, Hawaii. We’ll expand our medical-legal partnership program to bring critical housing-related legal services to more Kaiser Permanente members and communities in more areas by 2025.

“When people struggle to secure safe and stable housing, it’s nearly impossible for them to focus on basic health and medical needs,” said Anand Shah, MD, vice president of social health for Kaiser Permanente. “Legal representation can make a difference when it comes to tenants staying in their homes and having the ability to thrive. It’s so important we help people get that support when they need it so they can take care of their health.”

A journey to recovery

For D.K., the legal help he received from our partner Maryland Legal Aid made all the difference.

“I didn’t know how to apply or what forms to fill out. But Kaiser Permanente did,” said D.K. “I know firsthand that when people have secure, safe housing their mental and physical health improves.”

D.K. was able to avoid eviction and keep his housing. Now he can focus on his health and recovery.