‘Common Law’ Episode Explores How Lawyers Are Key to Confronting Health Disparities

Professor Dayna Bowen Matthew ’87 Discusses Medical-Legal Partnerships on Podcast
Dayna Bowen Matthew

Dayna Bowen Matthew ’87 is the William L. Matheson and Robert M. Morgenthau Distinguished Professor of Law, the F. Palmer Weber Research Professor of Civil Liberties and Human Rights, and professor of public health sciences at the University of Virginia. Photo by Mary Wood

April 23, 2019

Patients in poor health may need the help of a lawyer as much as that of a doctor in some instances.

Episode 5 of the podcast “Common Law,” which features University of Virginia School of Law professor Dayna Bowen Matthew ’87, looks at health disparities and the promise of medical-legal partnerships in addressing those cases.

Medical-legal partnerships are “when law and medicine get together to deliver health care,” Matthew explains in the show. They are “a model where the lawyer’s actually in the clinic and part of the [health care] delivery team. Why? Because so many medical problems have a legal component to them.”

For example, a child with asthma could be living in a building that’s moldy or not up to code.

“The medical-legal partnership fixes that by saying we can’t get a kid better physically and medically unless we also address the social circumstances in which they live, and a lot of those have legal components to them,” she says. “So we ask both questions in the clinic at the same time. We try to ask it preventively — that is, before the crisis ensues.”

Matthew also discusses her role in establishing a medical-legal partnership in Colorado, the impact of discrimination in housing and on environmental health, and how lawyers and law students can get involved.

In as many as 30-40% of cases, the difference in a good and bad health outcome “has to do with where you live, you work, you play,” Matthew says. “We’re really going to change health disparities if we can change people’s access to food security, people’s access to safe, sanitary, decent housing — even educational attainment. We see a really close correlation between lack of educational attainment and poor health outcomes.”

Matthew, who holds a Ph.D. in health and behavioral sciences in addition to her J.D., is the author of the book “Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care.”

Hosted by Dean Risa Goluboff and Vice Dean Leslie Kendrick ’06, “Common Law” is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, YouTube, Spotify and other popular places you can listen to podcasts, including Amazon Alexa devices.

You can follow the show on the website commonlawpodcast.com or Twitter at @CommonLawUVA.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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