Changemakers: Expanding Access to Healthcare After Prison

People who have spent time in jail or prison often can’t get quality, affordable medical care. Two Stanford GSB grads are working to fix that.

February 28, 2024

| by Kelsey Doyle

Health care is a basic human right, say Meghan Hunter and Mary Ellen Luck, both MBA ’22. That’s why together, they’re helping formerly incarcerated people access the care they need.

Changemakers

In this ongoing video series, we showcase Stanford GSB alumni who are striving to change lives, organizations, and the world.

After graduating from Stanford GSB, Hunter and Luck made their way to Montgomery, Alabama, to join the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization founded by public interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson that’s dedicated to addressing issues of racial and economic injustice. Drawn by EJI’s mission, the two would soon be helping expand the nonprofit’s services beyond the legal domain — and into health care.

“Our lawyers saw firsthand, through their clients, the challenges in terms of trying to access basic health care services,” Luck says. Alabama did not have anything like a free clinic offering treatment to former prisoners, who are often unemployed and uninsured. “So I got to work on a lot of the research,” Hunter recalls. She started asking, “If we were to do something in health care, what might be possible? What could this look like?”

The answer to that question is EJI Health, a walk-in clinic in Montgomery, and a mobile clinic that travels around the state. Both offer free health care to anyone who’s recently been released from jail or prison. “Part of what we’re trying to do is rebuild trust in health care,” Luck says. “I hope we’re showing that it is possible to provide high-quality, warm, high-touch care and lower the barrier to entry for groups that historically have not had access.”

For both Luck and Hunter, their work is about more than just health care. “Health is essential for us being able to access all of our other basic human rights,” Hunter says. “It’s a privilege for us for our patients to trust us — that continues to fuel why I do what I do.”

Full Transcript

Meghan Hunter: I think the simple answer for why I do what I do is I care about and want to help people.

Mary Ellen Luck: I just really strongly believe that healthcare is a basic human right. And I almost think about it as, how could I not spend my career working to expand access to care?

Meghan Hunter: When I came to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, I felt this personal urgency to help people who have been impacted by mass incarceration specifically. And so I reached out to the Equal Justice Initiative, or EJI, in Montgomery, Alabama. For over 30 years, EJI has provided free legal representation to people who are incarcerated. I was fortunate to come in at a point where they were revisiting this longstanding desire to do something in direct services.

Mary Ellen Luck: Our lawyers saw firsthand through their clients the challenges in terms of trying to access basic healthcare services.

Meghan Hunter: It can be confusing, and it can be hostile, and just often just inadequate. So I got to work on a lot of the research. If we were to do something in healthcare, what might be possible? What could this look like? As far as a free clinic serving people who are formally incarcerated, there really wasn’t anything like that in the state. And so I think EJI really realized the need.

Mary Ellen Luck: I really wanted to be on the ground working with people every day. Just the opportunity to work at an organization with all of that background that was launching an initiative in the field that I really cared about, I basically was like, “I’m in.”

Meghan Hunter: All of our services at the clinic are totally free for our patients. We do offer transportation to and from.

Mary Ellen Luck: Try and just minimize all barriers to access. Even the forms that we have patients fill out, very short, really basic information. If someone can’t get their medication, we go and deliver it to them.

Meghan Hunter: Lab results that would ordinarily take a week, two weeks, we’re able to get those results back to our patients in 15, 20 minutes.

Mary Ellen Luck: And in addition to our physical site here in Montgomery, we have a mobile clinic that we take around the state bringing care to where people are instead of having people needing to come to us. Part of what we’re trying to do is rebuild trust in healthcare. It’s really cool to see the arc of a visit because most people come in and they’re understandably nervous, and then our nurse takes them back and they see our doctors. And so many patients have said things like, “Oh, I’ve never had a doctor listen to me like that before, shake my hand, and look me in the eye.” And so by the time they leave, they’re usually laughing and joking. I hope we’re showing that it is possible to provide high quality, warm, high touch care, and lower the barrier to entry for healthcare for groups that historically have not had that type of access.

Meghan Hunter: I think health is essential for us being able to access all of our other basic human rights. We’ve created a space where people come and they feel dignified, and they also feel encouraged and empowered by what’s happening in their own health versus overwhelmed. It’s a privilege for us, for our patients to trust us with their care, and so that continues to fuel why I do what I do. My name is Meghan Hunter.

Mary Ellen Luck: My name is Mary-Ellen Luck.

Meghan Hunter: And I am a health manager.

Mary Ellen Luck: And I am a health manager at EJI Health.

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