Clinical approach

DREAM TEAM

A young girl goes to the pediatrician with asthma symptoms and gets the treatment she needs but is back in the doctor’s office with the same symptoms two weeks later. The repeat visits
continue for months because toxic mold growing in her parents’ rental home won’t allow her to get better.

Determined to get to the root of the problem, the pediatrician consults a lawyer who convinces the landlord to remove the mold. The girl’s asthma symptoms improve, the frequent trips to the doctor come to a stop and family life gets better.

It might sound like fantasy, but that’s the kind of outcome administrators and faculty at the law school are hoping for with the new Carolina Health Advocacy Medicolegal PartnerShip (CHAMPS) Clinic that began this fall.

“We need to get at the social determinants of health — things like living conditions, transportation and income stability — because those have a big eff ect on a person’s health and wellbeing,” says Emily Suski, assistant professor of law and director of the CHAMPS Clinic.

“The main idea of this clinic is to train a new generation of doctors and lawyers to work together to improve health outcomes.”

Ten law students, four to six medical students, a master’s of social work student, several pediatric residents and physicians will work in teams on cases referred through pediatric clinics
staffed by the Palmetto Health-USC Medical Group. Working under Suski’s supervision, the student teams will discuss the pertinent medical issues of each case and determine what legal
remedies might be available to address them.

In addition to the university’s law and medical schools, CHAMPS Clinic partners include Palmetto Health, the Palmetto Health-USC Medical Group and S.C. Legal Services. The clinic began last fall and will be open regularly every spring semester thereafter.

“The students are going to be blown away,” says Caughman Taylor, professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine, which provides medical care at two pediatric clinics at Palmetto Health Richland. “They’re going to see how this delivery model can improve health and what a huge benefit it will be to have healthier children who grow up to become healthier adults.”

Suski has taught similar clinics at other institutions and says the students will first have to learn to meld their innate differences of perspective and professional lexicons. But once they begin to see results from their joint efforts, their enthusiasm will blossom, she says, pointing to a case from a medicolegal clinic she taught in Atlanta.

“We had a child who had a rare neurological disorder who ended up paralyzed; the parents split up because of the emotional strain; the mom lost her job because of missed time, then lost her
car and apartment. And all of that impacted the child’s health,” she says. “We were able to help her find a job, which helped them regain housing and a car. We also got the child eligible for Supplemental Security Income. That was satisfying.”

Along with improving health outcomes and promoting interdisciplinary cooperation, the  CHAMPS Clinic also holds potential for health and educational research, and opportunities
abound for collaboration with other campus partners, Suski says.

“I’m open to the idea of bringing in psychology and public health students. There’s rich potential here,” she says.

Taylor affirms that notion, pointing to the future. “We’re bringing together professions that haven’t always collaborated,” he says. “Just think what those individuals can do when, say, a
doctor in a rural community teams up with a lawyer in the same community who agrees to take on a few pro bono cases every year. That could be huge. I can’t wait to kick this off.”

STOPPING THE VIOLENCE

When Lisa Martin arrived at the School of Law this past summer, she brought more than 10 years of experience in the law school clinical world in addition to several years as
an attorney advocating for teen victims of domestic violence.

The director of the new Domestic Violence Clinic envisions two goals for the program. “I see us involved in seeking emergency relief through domestic violence protection orders and addressing other issues that keep people in abusive relationships they otherwise would want to leave, such as financial insecurity and immigration status. I also see us engaged in broader initiatives such as community education projects so that people know what their legal rights are,” she says.

Martin’s interest in domestic violence issues began in law school when she worked in an international human rights clinic. After graduation, she took on as much pro bono work as possible in areas of domestic and family violence. She later joined the staff of a nonprofit teen violence prevention organization before joining the law faculty at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

“It’s satisfying to be able to teach about domestic violence, but even more so that I’m able to make a difference by training law students who will later take on pro bono cases in this arena,” Martin says.

Fellow law professor Eboni Nelson serves as board president of SisterCare in Columbia, an organization that partners with women in abusive relationships. She hopes a collaboration will
form with the new clinic when it launches this spring.

“There is a dearth of advocates for this kind of work,” Nelson says. “The clinic will train future generations of those who will go into this full time and those who will do this as pro bono work.”