What is health justice?
For us, health justice is achieved when racism, language barriers and anti-immigrant bias no longer infect the design and delivery of health care in the United States.
How do we fight for health justice?
Our work is rooted in the low-income communities of color and immigrant communities of New York City. Sometimes we use the courts to make sure health care providers and others within the health care system play by the rules. Sometimes we go to the legislature to change the rules of the game so that they are more fair and equitable. But we always do these things in a way that fosters and supports grassroots organizing and activism within the communities where we work.
Why this blog?
We want to get a conversation going among others, like us, who are exploring the ways in which health care advocacy can be combined with racial justice & immigrant rights activism. We also want to raise awareness about the fact that health care is a civil rights issue, and that it is an immigrant rights concern.
What kind of things do we work on?
Our work falls, roughly, into three major areas:
(1) Promoting Language Rights and Immigrant Health: Language or immigration status should not be a barrier to high-quality health care. This area of our docket is focused on making sure this is true for New York’s many millions of immigrant and limited English proficient families. Our campaigns include: a first of its kind advocacy effort to ensure linguistic equality in pharmacies; the creation of a multi-disciplinary statewide workgroup on medical deportation; and a statewide legislative campaign to obtain Medicaid reimbursement for language assistance services for health care providers.
(2) Combating Institutional Racism: Hospitals and other health care institutions in the US are often designed in such a way that people of color and immigrants do not always get access to the highest quality of care that those institutions have to offer. This design may not be intentional–e.g. a Whites Only sign on the front door–but certain policies and procedures may nevertheless have that impact. This area of our docket focuses on eliminating even the most covert manifestations of racism in the health care delivery system. One of our prominent campaigns in this area is the effort to end segregation in academic hospitals in New York City, which stems from the hospitals’ policies of separating patients into different and unequal systems of health care based on the type of insurance they have.
(3) Unraveling the Connections Between Race, Geography & Health Care: People of color in New York City have disproportionately negative health outcomes, in part because of the inadequate availability of health care services within their communities. This problem is steadily worsening as more hospitals and clinics scale back critical services and, in some cases, close entirely. Along with our community partners, we work to address this problem by fighting hospital and clinic closures and is working to institutionalize planning for health care services that is community-based and truly reflective of community need. We currently are working in both Southeast Queens and Central Brooklyn.
Who is “we”?
Shena Elrington is Director of the Health Justice Program. She joined NYLPI in June 2010 as a Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP public interest fellow. After completing her fellowship, Shena remained at NYLPI as a staff attorney in the Health Justice Program. During her time at NYLPI, she has focused her work on bringing a racial justice and immigrant rights perspective to health care advocacy. In collaboration with community-based organizations and coalitions across New York, Shena works on campaigns to end racial and ethnic discrimination in hospitals, the practice of medical deportation, and the closure of community hospitals and clinics in medically under-served areas. Shena graduated with a J.D. from Yale Law School in June 2008 and received her A.B. in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a certificate in African American Studies at Princeton University, where her research focused on food justice issues in low-income communities of color. During law school, Shena worked at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice as well as at the Jamestown Project, where she helped to launch a program encouraging civic engagement and democratic participation among historically underrepresented groups in New Haven. A native Brooklynite, Shena likes hosting brunches, reading science fiction, and vampires.
Jennifer Swayne is a staff attorney with the Health Justice team, coming to us from the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where she seemed to have racked up as many pro bono hours as she did billable ones. Jennifer received her J.D. from NYU School of Law, where she was an An Bryce Scholar and received several awards for her writing on and commitment to racial justice. While in law school, Jennifer worked at the Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (no relation) and with the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. Jennifer is also on the Young Leadership Board of New York Needs You, an organization that enables first-generation college students realize their educational and professional ambitions. Originally from the Left Coast, Jennifer is an inveterate world traveler and occasional participant in very challenging obstacle courses.
Alyssa Aguilera is the Health Justice team’s full-time community organizer, helping us pound the pavements, support community leadership and build grassroots campaigns to drive our legal advocacy. A 2009 graduate of Harvard College and a native of South Texas, Alyssa cut her teeth as an organizer in a series of workers’ rights campaigns in Boston and her home state, including with SEIU in Houston, TX and the Boston Workers Alliance. She is notorious (in a good way) at her alma mater for being the leader of the Student Labor Action Movement and spearheading the movement to ensure fair wages for workers at Harvard. Currently, she co-coordinates campaigns to preserve the health care safety net in New York City and to ensure equal treatment for Medicaid beneficiaries at private academic medical centers in the city. Alyssa is an alum of the Coro Immigrant Civic Leadership Program and was recently selected for the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders in Public Service by the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU.
Katherine Terenzi is the Taconic Policy Fellow for the Disability Justice, Environmental Justice, and Health Justice teams here at NYLPI. Kate began as an intern at NYLPI and we loved working with her so much we begged her to stay, first as a Program Assistant and now as the Policy Fellow. She graduated from Boston College in May 2009 with a B.A. in Psychology and has extensive experience in the nonprofit sector, working as a Policy and Advocacy Associate at the Sauti Yetu Center for African Women and the Program Associate for Community Change, Inc., where she pushed forward programs dedicated to dismantling racism in the juvenile justice and education systems. Her unwavering commitment to health, disability, and environmental justice, is channeled through Kate’s passion for policy advocacy. She is currently responsible for policy research on all of our language access in government entities campaigns and medical access for women with disabilities advocacy, among other things.
Lindsey Hennawi is a program assistant in NYLPI’s Health Justice and Environmental Justice programs. She received her B.A. in International Studies with a focus in human rights from Boston College. As a student, Lindsey was highly involved in promoting health education and literacy, especially in low-income communities of color, where she taught violence prevention and helped increase access to reproductive health information and resources. Since then, Lindsey has worked as a case manager for immigrant families and volunteered to support the rights and health needs of people involved in the sex trade. Lindsey hopes to pursue a career in public health and social work. She is passionate about food, traveling, and social justice, and is excited to join the NYLPI HJ team (and we are really thrilled to have her)!
Christine Chiu is a staff attorney and the newest addition to the Health Justice team. Christine has already hit the ground running and we’re excited to fight the fight for social justice with her. She joined NYLPI after spending a year at African Services Committee as a Kirkland & Ellis New York City Public Service Fellow representing primarily African undocumented clients seeking immigration relief. Christine was an International Institute for Law and Justice Scholar at NYU School of Law and focused her studies on human rights and social justice law. While earning her J.D., Christine worked at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Platform for Labour Action – advocating for the rights of marginalized workers in Uganda, and the Door Legal Services – providing legal assistance to New York City youth. She also co-authored a report on discrimination against Muslim communities in post-9/11 counterterrorism policy. Christine enjoys baking, eating baked goods, and snuggling with her geriatric dog.
We are part of a larger staff at NYLPI comprised of civil rights attorneys, social workers, community organizers, and many others who strive for social justice throughout New York and beyond.
Wanna learn more?