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Ashley Black, Attorney

Ashley is the lead attorney for the Public Justice Center’s Access to Health and Benefits Project, which supports policies and practices that promote the overall health of Marylanders struggling to make ends meet. The Project seeks to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare access and health outcomes. Prior to joining the Public Justice Center in 2018, Ashley worked at Disability Rights Maryland (formerly Maryland Disability Law Center) as a mental health attorney. In that role, she provided direct representation and brief legal services to individuals with behavioral health disabilities in civil rights issues and advocated for systemic changes to Maryland’s behavioral health system to improve the lives of behavioral health consumers.

Ashley graduated from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law with her Juris Doctor and the Health Law Certificate in 2015. She received the Public Service Award in recognition of her legal work that significantly advanced the public interest during her law school career.

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Pregnant woman meeting with nurse in clinic to discuss pregnancy

Many barriers keep people from getting the care they deserve. Medicaid does not cover dental care for adults. Some healthcare providers fail to provide language interpreters to those in need. Maternal health providers often aren’t trained to be culturally sensitive to expectant Black mothers. These are just a few of the ways that our healthcare systems fail our communities, and in particular, fail people of color.

The Public Justice Center uses legal tools to reform these systems. We advocate to protect and expand eligibility for healthcare coverage and access to appropriate, affordable, effective and culturally competent healthcare. We seek to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes and access to benefits.

Here’s what we’re working on:

Impact

Together with the Reproductive Health Equity Alliance of Maryland, worked with the Maryland Department of Health to establish the Doula Technical Assistance Advisory Group, which draws on leadership and insight from birth workers, researchers, advocates, and people with lived experience and aims to lay a foundation for equitable and inclusive voluntary doula certification and Medicaid and private insurance reimbursement for doulas. Expanding funding and access to community-based doulas can help address racial disparities in maternal healthcare. As a result of our advocacy, Maryland is set to join a handful of states in providing doula Medicaid reimbursement in early 2022. 

Worked in coalition with End Medical Debt Maryland to successfully advocate for the passage of the 2021 Medical Debt Protection Act, a strong foundation for protecting low-income Marylanders’ livelihoods, homes, and potential for intergenerational wealth transfer from harmful hospital medical debt collection practices.

Worked with the Maryland Hepatitis Coalition and Marylanders Against Poverty to expand access to access to Hepatitis C medication, successfully advocating to remove a requirement that Maryland Medical Assistance beneficiaries have liver damage in order to be eligible for treatment. To learn more about this advocacy and the barriers to accessing Hepatitis C treatment through Maryland’s Medicaid program, check out the video from this Justice for Breakfast presentation.

Filed a lawsuit that compelled the State of Maryland to eliminate a backlog of over 9,000 Medicaid applications for people with disabilities and agree to promptly process all applications going forward.

Filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service after a local Kool Smiles dental office failed to provide an interpreter to a Deaf client. The complaint resulted in Kool Smiles implementing a number of changes to ensure that its employees accommodate Deaf and hard of hearing clients at its 125 locations across the country.

Hands of prisoner in jail.

The Prisoners’ Rights Project seeks to end unjust and inhumane pretrial detention.

Whether a person stays in jail before trial or is released should not depend on how much money they have. When someone can’t afford to pay bail, they may sit in jail for weeks or months. In the meantime, they might lose their job, and their family loses a breadwinner. In order to get out sooner, they might take a plea deal, even if they’re not guilty.

The Public Justice Center’s work to address the devastating effects of bail bonds is an integral part of the coordinated effort of the Coalition for a Safe and Just Maryland (CSJM). We pursue pretrial justice that will:

Impact

In addition to working on bail reform, the Public Justice Center has spurred changes in how people are treated while locked up pretrial.

Health care in pretrial detention in Baltimore

Our efforts forced an overhaul of the Baltimore City Detention Center’s health care system and major improvements to the facilities, including closure of the oldest facilities and new accommodations for people with disabilities. We are monitoring the jail’s progress in improving its health care system and facilities and continue to press aggressively to require system improvements to achieve a constitutional health care system as swiftly as possible.

Treatment of protesters in police custody

We represented members of the community organizing group Baltimore Bloc and others who were among 65 people unlawfully arrested and detained at a peaceful protest held during Artscape 2016. In a settlement in fall 2018, the Baltimore City Police Department agreed to significant policy reforms to respect rights to free speech and protest and treatment of people in police custody.