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Law School and UMDNJ Partner to Improve Health and Well-Being of Newark Children and Families

December 05, 2012 – 

The Clinical Program at Rutgers School of Law–Newark and the Outpatient Department of Pediatrics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) have formed a medical-legal partnership to improve health outcomes for children with disabilities by addressing the non-medical causes of poor health that typically result from poverty.

The initiative, known as the HEAL (Health, Education, Advocacy & Law) Collaborative, fosters collaboration among professionals and students in medicine, law and social work through direct service provision to patients/clients, training and educational programs, and policy initiatives. Using a holistic, “preventive law” approach, the Collaborative initially will serve children with disabilities and their families, by identifying and remedying social problems before they become legal problems, and addressing legal needs in the areas of special education, early intervention and, to a lesser extent, public benefits. 

Valverde photo
Professor Valverde

Jennifer Rosen Valverde, JD/MSW, Clinical Professor of Law in the Rutgers Special Education Clinic (SEC), will oversee the program along with Kendell Sprott, JD/MD, Interim Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics, New Jersey Medical School (NJMS), and Hanan Tanuos, MD, FAAP, Director of Primary Care, NJMS. With generous support from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, the HEAL Collaborative has hired Stella Lyubarsky as a clinical law fellow who will staff the project full-time. Lyubarsky is a 2010 graduate of the law school and also holds a master’s of social work from New York University. She previously was a MacArthur JIDAN Fellow working in the law school’s Urban Legal Clinic and, before that, trained and supervised Rutgers law students volunteering in the Domestic Violence Unit at the Essex County Superior Court. 

Clinical law and Master level social work students in the SEC working under Professor Valverde’s supervision will staff the program as well. Over the last two years, law and social work students of the SEC and the Community Law Clinic, under the supervision of Clinical Professors Robert Holmes and John Kettle, have been involved in all aspects of program development for the HEAL Collaborative, including: drafting and negotiating a memorandum of understanding between the two institutions; researching professional ethics issues; creating and implementing an action plan; developing evaluation tools to measure program effectiveness; conducting a needs assessment to better understand the legal and social concerns of the patient population; and investigating and addressing trademark issues related to naming the program.

The medical-legal partnership (MLP) concept was introduced almost 20 years ago by Dr. Barry Zuckerman, Director of Pediatrics at the Boston Medical Center. More than 90 MLPs currently serve over 200 hospitals and health centers across the country, approximately 20 of which have a law school clinic as a partner.

Said Valverde: “We believe that this interdisciplinary collaboration will not only reduce the legal and social issues that adversely affect child and family health and well-being but also improve healthcare clients’ and professionals’ knowledge of available programs and services. While two other medical-legal partnerships operate in New Jersey, this program is unique in that it focuses specifically on children with disabilities and their families and on enhancing the educational experiences, professional development, knowledge and skills of those studying and working in the fields of law, medicine and social work through collaboration in a multi-disciplinary setting.”

The Collaborative expects to begin serving Newark children and families in early 2013.