UVM Medical Center

Partnership Connecting Patients with Legal Assistance Celebrates 500th Referral

Vermont Legal Aid, UVM Medical Center help patients with legal issues impacting their health.


Vermont Legal Aid and the University of Vermont Medical Center recognized that by teaming up to address patients’ legal challenges, they were also removing barriers to better health. This unique partnership, called Legal Access Works, is celebrating a major milestone this week with the UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Team referring its 500th patient to Vermont Legal Aid.

In its second year, the program saw a 74 percent increase in referrals, serving 249 patients from April 2017 to March 2018. Patients receive help with legal situations relating to the social determinants of health, including income, housing problems, legal status, education, access to healthy food, and personal and family stability.

“We know so many aspects of life that happen outside the doctor’s office can have a profound impact on health,” said Kate CapplemanSinz, social worker on the UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Team who connects with patients in their primary care offices and refers them to Vermont Legal Aid when appropriate. “By supporting patients who may be facing eviction or dealing with divorce as they navigate those complex legal situations, we can give them more space to focus on their own medical conditions and the health of their families.”

A social worker can often provide effective assistance to patients in their primary care office. However, when a patient appears to need legal help – for example, a new mother receives an eviction notice two months after giving birth – the patient is referred to an attorney from Vermont Legal Aid who provides critical assistance ranging from a phone consultation to representation in court.

“We have connected with so many people in our community who need legal help but may never have known how to access it without this important partnership,” said Rachel Seelig, a Vermont Legal Aid attorney who works with patients. “These people are already in the doctor’s office, so it’s a natural place to connect and offer the support we can provide at Vermont Legal Aid. We are so pleased that the UVM Medical Center was excited to collaborate on this effort, and we know that it is leading to better legal and health outcomes for some of our most vulnerable clients.”

“Population health is about looking beyond the walls of the hospital or the doctor’s office, and identifying supports that will truly help patients get and stay as healthy as possible,” said Penrose Jackson, director of Community Health Improvement at the UVM Medical Center. “Our Community Health Team social workers help patients with everything from food access to finding housing, but some areas – like relief from abuse orders or evictions issues – require the assistance of an attorney. Our social workers operate as a team with our partners at Vermont Legal Aid, supporting patients and empowering them to take the next step for themselves and their families.”

Through the partnership, the UVM Medical Center contracts with Vermont Legal Aid for the equivalent of one full-time attorney. Currently, two attorneys each work half-time to meet the needs of referred patients. The UVM Medical Center also funds office space and incidental costs.

About Vermont Legal Aid

Vermont Legal Aid is a non-profit 501(c) 3 law firm established in 1968. We provide civil legal services for those living in poverty, with a disability, or over age 60. We also serve anyone who is discriminated against in housing decisions and all who face challenges related to health care insurance or services.

We work closely with our partner agency, Legal Services Law Line of Vermont, which was formed in 1995. Law Line provides a legal advice hotline and manages the Vermont Volunteer Lawyers Project in cooperation with the Vermont Bar Association. Vermont Legal Aid and Law Line work together to identify innovative and efficient ways to provide legal advice and assistance to as many people as possible, even as funding for free legal services decreases dramatically.

Vermont Law Help, the website we jointly maintain, provides practical tools and useful information for those who seek to better understand their rights or legal problem or who need to advocate for or represent themselves before state agencies, in fair hearings or in the courtroom. Vermont Law Help also provides access to the services of Vermont Legal Aid and Law Line. The website averages more than 23,000 pageviews each month.

Together, Vermont Legal Aid and Law Line provide legal information, advice, or representation to more than 21,000 Vermont residents annually.

About The University of Vermont Health Network

The University of Vermont Health Network is an integrated system serving the residents of Vermont and northern New Yorkwith a shared mission: working together, we improve people’s lives.  The partners are:

Our 4,000 health care professionals are driven to provide high-quality, cost-efficient care as close to home aspossible. Strengthened by our academic connection to the University of Vermont, each of our affiliates remainscommitted to its local community by providing compassionate, personal care shaped by the latest medical advances anddelivered by highly skilled experts.