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Unique health care program providing access to legal support for Alaska Native people, earns global award

July 3, 2019




This spring, Alaska-based Partnering for Native Health Program was one of five global programs awarded at the World Justice Challenge: Access to Justice Solutions, a global competition aimed to “identify, recognize and promote good practices and successful solutions to improve access to justice.”

A collaborative effort between the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC), and Alaska Pacific University (APU), Partnering for Native Health Program trains health providers to screen patients for potentially health-harming legal needs and treat those needs by developing a legal treatment plan. In doing so, the program transforms traditional health care, typically focused on the physical symptoms of the human body, to one that incorporates legal assistance as a health tool, preventing systemic community health problems through immediate legal interventions.

After reviewing over 250 applications, the Partnering for Native Health Program was selected as one of 30 to be showcased during presentations at the World Justice Forum at The Hague, Netherlands, from April 29 through May 2. The event showcased the revolutionary work of the program in fostering partnership between medical and legal professionals, and Partnering for Native Health Program was named one of only five awarded among the field of international participants.

“This award recognizes the incredibly innovative solutions being created in Alaska,” said Dr. Robert Onders, APU President and ANTHC Medical Director for Community and Health System Improvement. “Health systems increasingly recognize the importance of the social determinants of health and the role for team-based health delivery, such as employment, housing, and safety from violence are often better addressed through civil legal aid. The Partners for Native Health Medical Legal Partnership’s attorneys have become critical members of the Alaska Tribal Health System assisting individuals, families, and communities with many health harming civil legal needs.”

The medical-legal partnership program between the Alaska Native Medical Center and ALSC, as well as several other Tribal health organizations both in Alaska and the Lower 48, began in the summer of 2017. The partnership remains aimed at improving the health of Alaska Native and American Indian people by reducing legal hardships brought on by social or environmental factors, which can have a negative impact on overall wellness.

“It is really wonderful to see the great work that is happening in Alaska through our strong community collaborations and partnerships be recognized as a potential solution to access to justice challenges worldwide,” said Nikole Nelson, Executive Director, Alaska Legal Services Corporation. “Too often, Alaska Native people are not able to get the help they need to address legal issues that impact their health.”

Since the program’s inception, legal aid “extenders,” or alternative ways for Alaska Native and American Indian people to have equal access to the civil legal services, were determined to be a significant need in the Tribal health care system. As a result, the Partnering for Native Health Program was developed, and has grown into the program that was awarded in May.

Currently, Partnering for Native Health Program provides legal support in 233 Tribes, at 13 locations across Alaska and the Lower 48.

“Teaming up with ANTHC and APU has given us the opportunity to learn from our partners and rethink and redesign Alaska’s civil legal aid delivery system,” said Nelson, who attended the award ceremony, with Izzy Williamson, Medical Legal Partnership Project Director. “We hope this award will help us bring the full scope of our vision for a people-centered justice ecosystem that is fully accessible to all Alaskans no matter their means or how far they live from the court house, to reality.”

For more information on the program, visit https://worldjusticeproject.org/world-justice-forum-vi/world-justice-challenge-2019.


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