From the Streets of Philadelphia: The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania’s How-To Primer on Mitigating Health Disparities
Volume 82, No. 5, Spring-Summer 2010
By Ronda B. Goldfein & Sarah R. Schalman-Bergen [PDF]

In the mid-1980s, a time when there was no hope of treatment and the public was rampant with AIDS hysteria, concerned citizens carried on a spirited public discourse about the services that people with HIV/AIDS needed to survive: health care, case management, home-delivered meals, even pet care. But few recognized how large of a role legal services could play in helping people with HIV/AIDS get the care they needed. It was difficult to understand that people with AIDS often needed a lawyer to get to a doctor.
All types of AIDS service organizations were created during this period, but funding and support for legal services remained limited. Despite the scarcity of resources, several legal-services organizations dedicated exclusively to the unique legal needs of people with HIV/AIDS developed throughout the nation. Over the years, these firms have seen first-hand how legal services can positively impact a client’s health outcome.

Decades after the discussions of the importance of legal services in an AIDS-care continuum, the connection between dedicated legal services and mitigating health disparities has become the foundation for medical-legal partnerships. These partnerships and the development of “public-health legal services” have been analyzed in many fine articles.

This Article, written from a practitioner’s perspective, will describe how the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania responded to Philadelphia’s AIDS epidemic. Parts II and III of the Article provide a brief background of the health disparities that have persisted throughout the AIDS epidemic. Parts IV and V compare the services requested by clients seeking assistance from the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania with the epidemiological data of those infected with HIV. Parts VI and VII identify the various models of HIV legal-services providers.

All lawyers seek justice for their clients, but certain vulnerable populations need more than just legal justice. Populations that have endured animus, inequality, or indifference have a need for social justice, greater than what can be accomplished in a courthouse or by a contract. The need for social justice, as a path to mitigating health disparities, is the impetus for dedicated, holistic legal services like those offered by the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. The authors hope this Article can serve as a guide for any lawyer seeking to replicate these services and “be a part of justice being done.”

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