Legally speaking: Kaiser Permanente has a unique way to keep patients housed and healthy

Kaiser Permanente. A young black sitting in an apartment at a table working on a laptop, viewed through a fire escape window

At Kaiser Permanente hospitals, which can be found in eight states and the District of Columbia, care teams understand that whether or not you have a roof over your head makes a paramount impact on your health. Not only does being unhoused exacerbate existing health issues, but poor health can lead to a loss of housing in some cases.

So, when a patient tells Kaiser Permanente health care professionals that they’re at risk of losing their home, their care team connects them with local legal aid organizations, extending support beyond hospital walls and leveraging community partnerships to identify solutions.

“When people struggle to secure safe and stable housing, it’s nearly impossible for them to focus on basic health and medical needs,” said Anand Shah, M.D., vice president of social health for Kaiser Permanente. “Legal representation can make a difference when it comes to tenants staying in their homes and having the ability to thrive. It’s so important we help people get that support when they need it so they can take care of their health.”

Since 2021, Kaiser Permanente has partnered locally to forge these medical-legal partnerships, initially collaborating with the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership and HealthBegins. But the health care system offers help for more than retaining housing. Staff are also trained to spot other legal issues that might affect a patient’s health, like unsafe housing conditions, evictions, disability benefit denials and domestic violence. Other patients need help with issues related to public utilities, insurance, preparing for immigration hearings, and applying for Social Security or unemployment. Patients who receive referrals get pro bono legal assistance.

That is how one Kaiser Permanente beneficiary in Baltimore, identified as “D.K.,” was able to keep a roof over his head and focus on his recovery. After D.K. was treated at a Kaiser Permanente hospital for his third heart attack in three years, he was unable to return to work and pay his bills, and along with that his rent. He shared with his cardiac team that he was concerned he might lose his housing. So Kaiser staff connected him with a staff attorney at Maryland Legal Aid, who helped him avoid eviction.

Kaiser Permanente currently has medical-legal partnerships and support legal aid organizations in Baltimore, Portland, Ore., Sacramento, Calif., Los Angeles, Vallejo, Calif., Denver, and on Oahu, Hawaii. It plans to continue expanding its medical-legal partnership program to serve more patients in need by 2025.


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