Keystone First provides free legal services to compensate for evictions of members with disabilities

Keystone First, the largest Medicaid plan in southeastern Pennsylvania, has partnered with a local nonprofit to provide free legal services to help Keystone First Medicaid members with disabilities or medical conditions to reduce the risk of eviction and address unhealthy housing conditions. .

The Housing Stability Initiative, a collaboration between Keystone First and the Disability Legal Clinic, was officially launched last summer before the national eviction moratorium expired in August. The Housing Stability Initiative aims to provide members with legal representation if they have a case in court.

It also helps those at risk of eviction apply for available housing assistance and works with landlords to address the detrimental living conditions of members who reside in substandard housing conditions.

Currently, Keystone First members who rent in Philadelphia and Delaware counties — and whom the health plan identifies as being at risk of eviction — are eligible. Additionally, members of these counties who are not at risk of eviction, but who reside in poor housing conditions are also eligible. About 1 in 14 tenants faces eviction each year in Philadelphia, one of the poorest big cities in America.

Kathleen Mullin, who leads housing initiatives for Keystone First, said eviction can be a traumatic event for vulnerable households, especially as millions of families are still recovering from the economic fallout from the pandemic.

“For Medicaid managed care organizations, these medical-legal partnerships can positively impact health outcomes by helping stabilize housing for people living in poverty,” she said. “We can integrate legal services with care management support to avoid the adverse effects caused by substandard housing conditions and evictions.”

Keystone First Care Managers, or other member-facing staff, may refer eligible Keystone First Medicaid members to the program if engagement with that member determines that their housing situation meets program criteria, including lead paint or lead pipes, pest infestation or leaky roofs.

Theresa Brabson, legal director of the Disability Legal Clinic, said the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the country’s affordable housing crisis and increased housing insecurity for low-income renters, who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“It is essential that we recognize and address housing insecurity as a social determinant of health. For tenants who have significant chronic health conditions or disabilities, housing instability poses a risk to their physical and mental health,” she said. “Through this innovative, cross-disciplinary partnership, we are better able to identify tenants in need of legal assistance and provide an immediate, community-based access point for justice.”

When eviction cannot be avoided, Brabson said his organization negotiates with landlords on the tenant’s behalf to reach a settlement.

“Keeping people in a stable home is a good strategy to keep them out of hospital emergency rooms, shelters, and to promote better overall health outcomes,” Brabson said.

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