Advocacy Health Alliance breaks new ground

Bendigo has been selected as the site of Bendigo’s first Advocacy Health Alliance (AHA) project. The scoping phase of the project started in early December 2012 thanks to the support of the Clayton Utz Foundation. Through this process, a three year pilot project is being developed to integrate a full-time lawyer within the Bendigo health care system.

Based on the successful Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) model in the United States, an Advocacy Health Alliance is a partnership between legal services and health services to address unmet legal needs as social determinants of health.

When a patient presents at a clinical setting with health issues that have a social cause, such as family violence, lack of housing or income security or discrimination, health staff often do not have the capacity or skill to deal directly with these issues, which are then left unresolved to escalate into more significant negative health outcomes. An Advocacy Health Alliance approach seeks to eliminate barriers in order to help vulnerable populations meet their basic legal needs within a clinical health setting.

The project started with the engagement of the AHA Project Worker, Jo Mason. Jo has a background in community development and has worked as a Project Manager in philanthropy and state, local and federal government. The major focus of the first four months of the project has been developing relationships with the regional health, health promotion and medical education organisations in the region, and selecting a primary partner organisation. The level of support for the project from the Bendigo health sector has been very strong with several potential locations for the pilot being identified.

Loddon Campaspe CLC has approached Bendigo Community Health to be the primary AHA partner, with the AHA lawyer to be based at the Helm Street Clinic at Kangaroo Flat. The MLP movement began with advocating for vulnerable children in the healthcare system in Boston, and this project will also focus on vulnerable children, particularly those families with a child who has an intellectual disability.

Families living in poverty with a child who has a disability are the most vulnerable in our society. Issues such as access to education, income security, discrimination, homelessness, family breakdown and violence exacerbate already difficult circumstances. The AHA project will focus on breaking the cycle of disadvantage through working with the family to empower them by directly addressing their unmet legal needs. The lawyer can work with health professionals and advocate for access to education, employment opportunities and deal with discrimination to ensure the child, through their family, have an equitable future.

One of the reasons for the strong support for the AHA project in Bendigo was the participation of several health sector staff at the AHA Symposium events both in Melbourne and Bendigo in November 2012. A report outlining the observations, discussions and outcomes of the Symposium events has recently been released and is now available on our Campaigns & Advocacy page. The report recognises the increasing number of multidisciplinary practices that resemble an AHA evolving across Australia.

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