On October 25, 2017, we lost our beloved colleague Camilla Roberson. Camilla led our Access to Health and Benefits Project, scoring many victories to improve access to care for thousands of low-income Marylanders. She compelled the State to eliminate a backlog of applications for Medicaid on the basis of disability and to start processing applications on time. She ensured that dental and health care providers arrange for interpreters for Deaf clients. As chair of the Governmental Access Workgroup, she organized state agencies, advocates, and providers to make sure that language is not a barrier to receiving public benefits and health care. As a member of the Workplace Justice Project, she worked to make sure that the Unpaid Wage Lien Law would be a tool for workers to recover their unpaid wages. She was also a champion of incorporating race equity into the work of the PJC and the Maryland Alliance for the Poor, a statewide coalition of anti-poverty advocates. Her life and work are celebrated in this tribute in the Baltimore Sun.
Camilla Roberson was a staff attorney working primarily in the areas of health rights and juvenile justice. Prior to joining the PJC, Camilla worked in a variety of settings, including three and a half years as a class action litigation associate at Schneider Wallace Cottrell Brayton Konecky LLP, a civil rights firm in San Francisco, California. She also completed a Skadden Fellowship as part of the Safe Families Project at the Legal Aid Society – Juvenile Rights Division in New York, where she represented child witnesses of domestic violence in child protective proceedings.
During law school, Camilla interned with the Legal Aid Society, the National Center for Youth Law, the Welfare Law Center (now the National Center for Law and Economic Justice) and Human Rights Watch – Children’s Rights Project. She also volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate in Brooklyn and trained as a community mediator. Between law school and college she worked at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, a home for orphaned and abandoned children in Honduras; taught reading and Spanish in the Baltimore City and Baltimore County schools respectively; and taught English as a Second Language with EBLO (Education Based Latino Outreach).
Camilla was a Baltimore native and a graduate of Columbia Law School, University of Virginia, and the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore. She was also a supporter of ATD-Fourth World Movement, a human rights-based antipoverty movement.
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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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:
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 joined 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.