New Mexico Legal Aid recently received international recognition from the World Justice Project for its cutting edge medical-legal partnership called Partnering for Native Health. New Mexico Legal Aid is one of six legal aid organizations partnering with 14 tribes to place AmeriCorps legal fellows on site as part of a tribal health center team addressing Native Americans’ health inequities.
Medical-legal partnerships are a growing trend across the country with 373 operating in 47 states, but NMLA’s Partnering For Native Health project is a first-in-the-nation initiative serving American Indians and Alaskan Natives. AmeriCorps fellow Alyssa Mercado has been completing intake and seeing clients at First Nations Community HealthSource’s main Albuquerque location every Monday and at its satellite location at the University of New Mexico Truman Health Center on Tuesdays. Most of Mercado’s clients are homeless and are challenged with a variety of legal issues that are adversely affecting their health.
First Nations primarily serves Albuquerque’s urban Indian population, but no one is turned away. Mercado has helped clients retain custody of their children, obtain public benefits they had been denied, and avoid being evicted from their homes. Mercado works with NMLA’s other Native American Program attorneys under the direction of Director Cindy Aragon.
There are tremendous benefits of the collaboration with First Nations. Having an attorney on site and immediately available removes barriers for clients who may lack transportation, have no telephone or other means of communication, and who benefit from First Nations’ navigators who make sure patients are supported every step of the way to access referrals and complete visits.