The Center for Health Law Studies has added two full-time faculty members to its ranks, further enhancing the law school’s ability to provide practical skills and substantive knowledge as students strive to make a positive change in health law.
As alumni, Distinguished Health Law Scholar Malcolm J. Harkins III (’76) and Health Law and Policy Fellow Cora Drew Walker (’09) are no strangers to SLU LAW, and they are thrilled to be back among the School of Law community.
Teaching has always been a passion for Harkins, partner at the Washington, D.C. office of the nationally-known law firm Proskauer Rose, LLP, and the stars finally aligned for him to take a more integrated role at his alma mater. He served as a guest lecturer on numerous occasions through the years, including a stint as Health Law Practitioner-in-Residence during the 2006-2007 school year. Additionally, he teaches the Health Law Agency Practice course to Semester in D.C. students every spring, which he will once again partake in next semester.
But now comes the time to pay it forward to the next generation of SLU LAW lawyers. Harkins feels he owes a lot to the School of Law for the education it gave him, as well as the intangible sense of community.
The Jesuit value cura personalis, care for the whole person, is a virtue Harkins saw time and again throughout his years of association with the law school – most notably each of the four times during his first semester when then-Assistant Dean and Professor Pete Salsich (’65) talked him out of quitting law school.
“When I was here, I saw that in spades in the faculty,” said Harkins. “They were absolutely committed to their students. They were teachers first. And I have always felt that that was one of the things that distinguished this place.”
Through his part in the Health Law Semester in D.C. program, which has seen 20 students participate since its inception in 2011, Harkins addresses both professional responsibility issues that arise in agency practice and advanced topics in administrative law.
“Many times people view government agencies as insulated and don’t see the forces that affect why they do what they do or that the agency has its own interests when it’s conducting its business,” he said. “I want them to understand that so when they appear in front of the agencies or are interacting with the agencies, they realize it’s not just about making a good case for why something should be done. They have to understand what the agency’s interests are.”
A few weeks into his semester back in St. Louis, Harkins is already witness to the “intellectual curiosity” of his students, as well as “an awful lot of emotional intellect.” Discussions on the issues at hand have been known to continue on well beyond the clock’s dismissal.
“One of the things that has always characterized SLU LAW graduates is we know how to get things done and we do it. I’d love to see the students know how to get things done.”
A recognized leader in the field of health law, Harkins is a frequent writer on health care issues, publishing numerous articles on topics of interest to the industry, and he also often addresses state and national professional societies and associations. Over the summer, he was interviewed by various media outlets on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, including Bloomberg BNA and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Originally from Tuskegee, Alabama, Walker knew she wanted a career related to health law as a senior in high school, when she saw an elderly man have to walk away from a pharmacy because he couldn’t afford his medication.
“I wanted to do whatever I could to learn as much as possible about the laws and policies that shape our health care system, and develop the skills necessary to help influence those laws and policies in a way that could help people gain access to health care,” she said.
After receiving her J.D., Walker went on to earn a master’s in public health from Washington University in St. Louis. Upon graduation, she spent two years at a boutique firm before getting back to her original goal of advocacy and policy, achieved through her work as a health policy associate with the Missouri Foundation for Health.
Now at SLU LAW, she is teaching the innovative Grassroots Advocacy class with Professor Sidney Watson and Distinguished Health Scholar Margaret Donnelly (’88).
“I’m really excited about helping train students who want to do similar work and want to represent and advocate for underserved individuals and communities,” said Walker. “Being able to draw from my own background, practical experience and passion for social justice in health to help equip students with skills to become engaged and work to effect change is a fantastic opportunity – and extremely rewarding.”
The class, taught in two sections, engages students in the advocacy process. Part one of the class, held in the fall semester, focuses on community engagement advocacy. Students collect stories and give presentations to help educate the public on the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and other issues. Over the past year, students have collected close to 150 stories of ordinary Missourians’ experience with accessing health care. Part two focuses on the legislative/policy side of the grassroots movement, sending students to Jefferson City, Missouri, for lobby days and providing opportunities to testify at legislative and administrative hearings as well as preparing witnesses to testify.
“It’s an exciting time to be in health law and policy,” said Walker. “Specifically here in Missouri, the hyper-political environment has made the role of lawyers, especially as part of the grassroots advocacy community, even more important.”
Frustration can easily be found on all sides of the debate, but Walker sees it as more than just an obstacle to influence change. “It is an opportunity to be that much more of an effective advocate because you have to take all those dynamics into account and be even clearer and more persuasive when advocating,” she said.
She is excited to get involved in the community-based research and collaboration that is prevalent with the class. She hopes to provide more resources for the health advocacy community, giving them additional tools so they can understand the different laws and policies in play and then educate others about them. While last year’s class emphasized Marketplace enrollment and Affordable Care Act education, this year the focus will be on gathering experiences from people who have enrolled in new health plans to see where more advocacy and education needs to happen. Being able to bring these stories to Jefferson City in January will help put faces to the issues at hand.
Walker is already hitting the ground running this semester by contributing her expertise to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article on the possible new approach to achieve Medicaid expansion in Missouri.