Health justice partnerships are collaborations embedding legal assistance within health care services. They support people who are at risk of poor health and unmet legal need. They can identify and address people’s legal problems that may otherwise not be addressed and would have a continuing impact on a person’s health, including their mental health. There are more than 60 health justice partnerships in Australia, with more than 30 operating in Victoria.
WEstjustice and Mercy Mental Health
In 2016, WEstjustice and Mercy Mental Health (MMH) established a Fines and Debt Clinic, Victoria’s first health justice partnership focusing on people with a disability that may arise from mental ill‑health. The clinic operated until 2020, but is currently on hold while the service model is being evaluated and future funding is confirmed.
The Fines and Debt Clinic supports people living with mental ill‑health by providing legal services to inpatients of MMH’s adult inpatient unit, as well as clients of MMH’s community care unit. Social workers identify people with legal issues and refer them to the clinic’s lawyer, who sees clients in the hospital while they are inpatients or in MMH’s community care services.
Shifrah Blustein, Program Manager of the health justice partnership, said it has assisted 242 clients since 2016.
Working with clients in the Mercy Mental Health setting provided many valuable insights into the complexities of clients facing significant mental health issues. It afforded us the opportunity to forge client relationships with a cohort that were very much in need of legal assistance but would likely not find their way to our centre if it were not for our health‑justice partnership with the hospital.
Ms Blustein said a recent evaluation of the program showed that some staff believed that the assistance greatly reduced stress for clients and reduced readmissions to hospital.
Clients surveyed attested to the sometimes life‑changing nature of the assistance provided, aiding them to rein in financial problems and reduce stress and poor health outcomes.
Source: Health Justice Australia [accessed 16 November 2020]; WEstjustice, Diverting vulnerable offenders away from the traditional criminal justice system, Submission to the RCVMHS: SUB.1000.0001.5694, 2019; WEstjustice, Health Agency to Court, Tackling the Fines System Evaluation Report, September 2020.