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Clinic Students Gain Experience

Kirsten Dowell, Katie Yale Barnes, Kelly Austin, John Nugent, Jeanna Revell, Crissy Dixon

The student attorneys in the Elder Law Clinic this semester dove right in.  They tackled a wide range of cases with intelligence, energy and good humor.  The students pored over complicated Medicaid regulations, sorted out IRS garnishments and consumer disputes and diplomatically assessed issues of client capacity.  They are better prepared for interviews, research and advocacy because of their clinical experience.  Here’s a peek at some of the many cases the students handled, with facts changed to protect confidentiality.

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Presentations by Managing Attorney Kate Mewhinney

Professor Mewhinney discussed LGBT cultural competency training  with staff and volunteers of long-term care facilities and community-based aging service providers.

Professor Mewhinney discussed LGBT cultural competency training with staff and volunteers of long-term care facilities and
community-based aging service providers.

  • “Ethical Issues in Guardianship,” UNC Center for Bioethics, Clinical Ethics Grand Rounds, Chapel Hill
  •  “Training in Elder Law,” Twin City Kiwanis Club, Winston Salem
  •  “NeuroLaw: A Primer for Psychiatrists,” with Stephen Kramer, M.D.; N.C. Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting
  •  “Healthy LGBTQ Aging: Strategies for Success,” Co-sponsors: Parkway United Church of Christ, Shepherd’s Center, and Adam Foundation*
  •  “A Caring Response to LGBT Clients,” with Jennifer Harriss, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman of the Area Agency on Aging, and clinic student Crissy Dixon*

rainbow grant info

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Tackling Health Care Coverage

NC graphic agingJohn Nugent helped a man who had given his money and real estate to his family a few years ago.  Problem is, he may soon need nursing home or rest home care, and the rules penalize these financial gifts.  John proposed restructuring the real estate titles to fix the problem and having the family return some funds to the man.  Then, the man could pay his children for the care they provide him, using a written contract.  This type of payment is permitted under Medicaid asset transfer rules.

Katie Yale Barnes’ client had a similar problem, due to ill-advised gifts of money a few years ago.  The woman is now in a nursing home and needs Medicaid coverage immediately.  Fortunately, her children kept records showing that much of the money went to pay for in-home care.  While this doesn’t guarantee that Medicaid will approve coverage, Katie has a good argument that the “undue hardship rules” should apply.  Otherwise, her very ill client would have no medical care!

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Taking on the Big Box Store

Sharing a laugh with John Nugent.

Sharing a laugh with John Nugent.

Kelly Austin helped a man who had bought an appliance from a big company, but couldn’t use it due to the older wiring in his home.  When he tried to return it, the company pointed to some fine print about a “no returns” policy.  Kelly’s analysis showed that this policy may not have been properly disclosed.  So, she negotiated with the company about a compromise.

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Tightening the Budget

Katie Yale Barnes in a client meeting.

Katie Yale Barnes in a client meeting.

Crissy Dixon had a client whose daughter was using the client’s funds for herself.  Crissy helped the client revoke the power of attorney and she drew up a new one.  She also contacted the daughter about recovering the money that the daughter had taken.  As in most of these cases, it was impossible to recover the money.

In the Elder Law Clinic, we take steps to avoid these situations.  One way is for students to send a letter to the agent explaining what the agent can and cannot do with our client’s assets.  This helps to protect the client and cuts down on “misunderstandings.”

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A Medical-Legal Partnership

Samantha Rogers, PA-C, introducesKirsten Dowell to the Sticht Center on Aging.

Samantha Rogers, PA-C, introduces
Kirsten Dowell to the Sticht Center on Aging.

The medical and legal issues of older people are often connected.  The primary overlaps occur with questions about mental capacity and health care coverage.  We were fortunate to have a guest lecture from Edward Shaw, M.D.   The law students learned about memory disorders and their treatment, progression and diagnosis.  Many of these medical issues arise in guardianship cases that the students handle.  Dr. Shaw founded and directs the Memory Assessment Clinic, a cooperative effort between the WFU Department of Counseling and the WFU School of Medicine section on Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine.

Several students had the opportunity to observe older patients at the medical center.  As part of that process, they offered patients some basic information about legal steps that one can take to plan for possible incapacity.  And they learned about common issues that arise for elders and their families as a result of cognitive impairments.  Drs. Hal Atkinson and Julie Williams, both experienced geriatricians, demonstrated the gold standard for interacting with older patients.

As clinic student Jeanna Revell observed, “The doctors had a great mixture of a calming presence and a to-the-point structure of conversation.  I could tell within a matter of minutes that the patient was relaxing and starting to trust the physicians, though she would get flustered at points.  When this happened, the doctors were affirming and smoothly transitioned to the next phase of the assessment.  My visit to the medical clinic was wonderful and very rewarding.”

Katie Yale Barnes wrote about her visit, “I learned a lot about bedside manner.  I was blown away by how empathetic and understanding Dr. Williams was, especially with one patient’s spouse.  The patient was significantly impaired and the spouse had been having an extremely difficult time.  However, Dr. Williams remained very professional and gathered the necessary information.  I hope to be just as empathetic, yet professional, with my own clients.”

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Untangling the Tax Mess

A warm welcome from Kelly Austin.

A warm welcome from Kelly Austin.

Jeanna Revell worked on an IRS problem.  Her client’s husband had mild dementia that   apparently caused him to make errors on the couple’s tax returns.  By the time his wife learned about this from the IRS, they owed thousands of dollars.  Jeanna researched the law and gathered the information needed to request that the IRS stop the collection action.  She was successful!

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Client Reviews

client reviews box

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Improving Medical Care

Getting details from Jeanna Revell.

Getting details from Jeanna Revell.

A court-appointed guardian controls everything about an “incompetent” person’s life, within certain rules.  Kirsten Dowell helped a mother who was concerned about her mentally challenged adult son, who has a guardian.  The mother thought he was getting too many psychotropic medications.  The son’s guardian is a local agency.  Kirsten advocated for the mother and persuaded the guardian to have the son’s medications re-examined.

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News from Elder Law Clinic Alumni

Clinic alumni Erin McKee (’15), Angela Cinski (’03), Mark Edwards (‘97), Josh Apple (‘08), Aimee Smith (‘02) and Natalie Miller (‘04) attend a continuing education elder law event.

Clinic alumni Erin McKee (’15), Angela Cinski (’03), Mark Edwards (‘97), Josh Apple (‘08), Aimee Smith (‘02) and Natalie Miller (‘04) attend a continuing education elder law event.

LaRita Dingle (’15) joined Weaver, Bennett & Bland, P.A. in Matthews, N.C.  She writes: “I’m working in the civil litigation department, drafting discovery, pleadings and motions.  I have researched issues and drafted memos for the estate planning attorney and the family law attorney.  My cases involve business litigation, breach of contract or breach of fiduciary duties.  Other cases involve, fraud, construction liens, and will caveats.”

Kathleen Rose Rodberg (’12) has joined the Asheville firm of McGuire, Wood and Bissette.

Gelila Selassie (’15) reports from Charlotte:  “My position at Legal Services of Southern Piedmont is as a Family Support Healthcare Attorney.  This involves Medicaid and ACA Marketplace administrative appeals and working as a health insurance navigator during Open Enrollment.  I do much of the same work I did in the clinic, such as determining resource limits, getting affidavits from medical providers, interviewing caretakers, etc.  I also do outreach, such as speaking to seniors about their health care options.  The E-Clinic played a huge role in preparing me for this position!”

Devon Green (’06) is enrolled in Dartmouth’s Masters in Health Care Delivery program.  It combines business and health policy training to help professionals institute value-based improvement of health care delivery.   She is also working as Special Counsel for Health Care Reform for the state of Vermont.

Ben Limehouse (’14) is now with the firm Liipfert Law Group, PLLC, in Winston-Salem.  He handles elder law and estate planning matters.

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