April 5, 2023

Housing help brings stability to patients’ lives

With medical-legal partnerships, we’re helping prevent evictions. Patients with safe places to call home can more easily focus on their basic health needs.

Medical-legal partnerships help families facing a housing crisis in order to prevent evictions and homelessness.

It can be overwhelming to care for twins. What’s even harder? Twins with special needs.

Ms. Smith (who asked to use her last name only to protect her privacy) is a Kaiser Permanente member and single parent of twins born with health and developmental issues. She struggled to care for her sons and pay for housing.

Unable to work outside the home, Smith got by with the support of relatives. When the pandemic hit, she was able to keep her Sacramento, California, apartment with help from the city’s COVID-19 relief emergency rental assistance program.

As pandemic-era funding ran out, Smith’s rental assistance stopped. She found herself in a cycle of paying back rent and late fees. Eventually, Smith received a final eviction notice.

“I had 3 days to pay a quarter of the rent and needed to go down to the courthouse to file. But I didn’t have finances to pay or gas to even get there,” said Smith.

Legal aid is pivotal to avoiding eviction

Smith’s medical social worker referred her to Legal Services of Northern California for assistance.

Legal Services of Northern California is one of a number of legal aid organizations that Kaiser Permanente partners with to provide legal services to patients in need. Members of our care teams are trained in spotting legal issues that could potentially impact a patient’s health. This especially includes housing-related legal concerns, such as evictions. When an issue is identified, the patients get a referral and can receive legal help at no cost.

“Our medical-legal partnerships are crucial in ensuring that patients who are most in need of housing stability can access legal resources,” said Stephanie Ledesma, vice president of community health for Kaiser Permanente.

In Smith’s case, Legal Services of Northern California contacted the courthouse on her behalf and filed the necessary paperwork to avoid her immediate eviction. The firm settled an agreement with her landlord’s lawyer that helped Smith stay in her home and granted her time to catch up on rent.

Kaiser Permanente has similar medical-legal partnerships in Baltimore; Portland, Oregon; Sacramento; Vallejo, California; and on Oahu, Hawaii. We plan to launch additional partnerships in Denver and Los Angeles later in 2023.

Our aim with the partnerships is to support our patients’ total health. Without a safe place to call home, it’s nearly impossible to focus on basic health and medical needs. We rolled out our medical-legal partnership initiative in 2021, in collaboration with the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership and HealthBegins.

“By improving access to community legal aid, we are preventing homelessness. And we are eliminating the physical and mental health consequences that eviction can have on health,” said Ledesma.

Supporting social needs

In addition to fighting evictions, the medical-legal partnership team coordinates to support patients with a variety of other social needs.

Once Smith was able to fight her eviction, Legal Services of Northern California walked her through the steps to reapply for rental assistance under the city’s new regulations. Her medical social worker then turned her attention to helping Smith apply for in-home supportive services for her sons. Her sons now receive speech and language therapy at home.

“I’m so grateful to have a stable home and medical care for my kids,” said Smith. “I’m very appreciative of the legal help for me when it comes to housing. Regardless of anyone’s income, there are resources out there for people."

Get the help you need

We’re here to support you however we can. If you or someone you know needs help with essentials like food or housing, or needs assistance paying bills, start your search at kp.org/communityresources or call 1-800-260-7445 (TTY 711), Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. local time.

Eviction, equity, and health

Nearly 6 out of 100 renting households were threatened with eviction at least once during 2018, according to the Eviction Lab. In a typical year between 2000 and 2018, landlords filed 3.6 million eviction cases.

Eviction filings are now on the rise again as pandemic-era rental assistance funds and restrictions on evictions sunset. Black tenants — especially Black women — face a greater threat of eviction due to decades of inequalities in the housing system. Black women are more than twice as likely to have evictions filed against them as white people.

High blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and poor health are some of the negative effects associated with evictions.