En EspaƱol Know Your Rights
Source: Daily News
Subject: Health Justice & Access
Type: Media Coverage

Nisha Agarwal aims to make NYC a healthier place with Health Justice Program

Even as a
kid growing up in Fayetteville, N.Y., Nisha Agarwal had a thing for our town, New York City.

"I
have always loved the city, maybe because I grew up in a small town," said
Agarwal. "I would travel to the city with my parents. My mom is originally
from Bombay, so
we would travel there as well. She also had a thing for social justice issues,
and for the underdog.

"I was
the kid who protested frog dissection in high school," Agarwal said with a
grin.

"I was
always attracted to social justice issues, and my parents encouraged it. My
grandfather, Keval Krishan Kapoor, marched with Mahatma Gandhi, so I think it’s
something that is just a part of our family history."

Now, as
director of the Health Justice Program with New York Lawyers for the Public
Interest, Agarwal, 31, has combined those loves with a third – her love of law
– to have a major impact on health issues in the state.

NYLPI was
one of the driving forces behind the April 2009 agreement state Attorney
General Andrew Cuomo reached with several major pharmacy chains statewide –
including Duane Reade and Walmart – to provide customers with prescription
information in their primary language.

"That
is huge; it affects a million people, thousands of stores across New York State," Agarwal said.

Understanding
prescriptions "can really have life or death consequences, as we have
heard from some clients of mine, moms who get medication from the
pharmacy," she said.

"Maybe
they get a couple for their kid, who is sick. And once they get the labels
home, they can’t read them, because they’re English-only.

"So
they don’t know if they are supposed to provide it orally or topically, so
sometimes the medication won’t be provided at all or provided incorrectly, and
then the kid or the patient ends up in the emergency room."

Agarwal has
been working on the issue since she joined NYLPI in 2006, shortly after
graduating from Harvard
University Law
School
.

"When
I came in, I was on a public interest fellowship focused on issues of language
barriers in health care," she said.

"The
first meeting I set up was with the Bushwick office of
Make The Road By Walking. I spoke to the members and staff there, and that’s when
our language access and pharmacies campaign began to emerge."

Make The Road in Bushwick is an arm of the
nonprofit group Make The Road New York,
which among many things organizes grassroots campaigns around issues that affect
economically disadvantaged people and communities.

It took a
year of research, lobbying and more research before NYLPI filed a complaint
with Cuomo’s office in June 2007, Agarwal said.