For Grandma and Papa, a Summer at the Center for Elder Law and Justice

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By Hannah Davis ’23

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

This is the sign on the wall I passed each morning as I walked to my desk at the Center for Elder Law and Justice. While normally I would find this type of decor a bit contrived, it was apparent on my first day at CELJ that I had become immersed in an office culture of individuals who were truly passionate about, and even loved, the work they did. This energy was infectious, and it allowed me to begin each morning in the right headspace to fall in love with the work I was doing.

When I was looking for a job for this summer, I made it a priority to remain in the public interest field. CELJ had piqued my interest for some time, as I had wanted to work in the elder law field since before beginning law school. I was incredibly fortunate to have this specialized organization in my own community.

Over the past 10 weeks, I found it was easier to love what you do when you have a reason to get up and do the work each morning. For me, this reason was my maternal grandparents, who were the reason I became passionate about advocating for elders in the first place. Growing up, my grandparents were my first friends and caretakers. Some of the fondest memories in my life include my Grandma and Papa, and they were just as integral to my childhood as my own parents.

Before I started law school, my grandmother suffered a long road of memory loss and dementia. I remember so vividly that my family felt overwhelmed navigating the resources necessary to ensure her care needs were met in her last few years of life. Shortly before my 1L year began, my Papa suffered a leg amputation, which led to him becoming a victim of neglect in his rehabilitation facility. Since this was in the middle of the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, we were unable to be in the facility with him. Once again, my family was frustrated and lost because we felt we could not properly advocate for him. It was at this time that I began to think of all the patients in nursing facilities who have never had someone in their corner, pandemic quarantine protocol aside. This was when I realized that a lawyer could fight for those people, and that lawyer could be someone like me.

At CELJ, I worked as a law clerk in the Long Term Care Resident Advocacy Unit, and assisted in other units as needed. The Long Term Care Resident Advocacy Unit manages many legal issues that affect nursing home and adult care facility residents including: creating powers of attorney, defending residents during facility discharges and evictions, ensuring residents are aware of their rights in these facilities, and much more. The unit also works closely with the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, a New York State program that serves as an effective advocate and resource for older adults and persons with disabilities who live in nursing homes, assisted living, and other licensed adult care homes.

With a broad range of specialties and plenty of work to assist with, this internship allowed me to get a holistic legal education while advocating for a group I am passionate about. I oversaw power of attorney executions, went on visits to meet with potential clients in facilities, and even was able to go to court appearances to defend clients facing eviction.

While I attempted to immerse myself in all the work done at CELJ, my main summer project was completing a research report on chains of under-performing nursing facilities. I learned how to compile data within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and New York State Department of Health. I was able to familiarize myself with New York Public Health Law. Even though much of the research was combing through horror stories of nursing home abuse and neglect, it was still rewarding and fulfilling work. Since I could scratch the surface to expose weak points in nursing home facilities in the state, we were then able to brainstorm concrete solutions for improvement of care for these residents.

I cannot change what my grandparents have gone through. I cannot change what anyone who has suffered nursing home negligence and abuse has gone through. However, I can continue to do work that ensures others will not have to go through the same, and for now, that is enough for me to love what I do.

I have endless gratitude for those who allowed me to have this summer experience. First, I would like to thank the attorneys and staff at the Center for Elder Law and Justice for their help and support this summer. Next, I would like to thank both Hon. Judith Gische ’80 and Steven A. Schurkman ’80, and the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowships Program for choosing me as a recipient for the Blanche Gische and Helen Schurkman Fellowship Award for Elder Justice. Because of your generosity, you have allowed countless law students, including me, to be able to explore our passions for elder law. Finally, I am forever indebted to my family, especially my grandparents, who have inspired me to be where I am today. I am looking forward to where this experience takes my legal career in the years ahead.

Name: Hannah Davis

Name of Fellowship: Blanche Gische and Helen Schurkman Fellowship Award for Elder Law

Placement: Center for Elder Law and Justice

Location: Buffalo, NY

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “It is important to continue to honor the dignity of those who paved the way for us. Human beings deserve a high quality of life and freedom from exploitation at all ages. It is important to fiercely advocate and support initiatives that protect vulnerable individuals who live in unsafe conditions and become victims of exploitation and neglect.”