Their classmates may have been recovering from New Year’s, but the 12 students participating in the Health Law Trip for Maryland Law Service Corps were boarding a plane to Jackson, Mississippi, for a week of on-the-ground work on health care reform and HIV/AIDS discrimination.
Led by 2L Maggie Davis and 3L Lucy Mac Gabhann, and working in partnership with the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ), the trip comprised two groups, one led by Mac Gabhann working on the Affordable Care Act and the other led by Davis on HIV/AIDS discrimination. The students worked in Jackson and Indianola, where MCJ is in the process of opening a new health law practice; since the space is not yet ready, Delta Health Alliance welcomed the students into its offices for the week.
The percentage of people living with HIV in Mississippi ranks among the nation’s highest, as does its new infection rate. Funding for HIV/AIDS programs is minimal, and getting medication can be impossible for low-income residents. Sufferers report rampant discrimination in housing, employment, and health care—but because Mississippi has no state enforcement apparatus, penalties are rare. The death rate for Mississippians for HIV is almost twice that of the average American.
Before leaving for Mississippi, both groups researched and designed “know your rights” pamphlets. The trip included Liz Rinehart, a graphic designer and now a joint-degree student at the School of Social Work and UM Carey Law, so the pamphlets were well laid out as well as informative. The HIV/AIDS group focused on privacy, housing, and employment discrimination, while the other group developed three sets of brochures about health care reform for different types of providers. Mac Gabhann notes that even providers were unaware of the Act’s provisions: “People weren’t really thinking about how it would benefit them.”
Once in Mississippi, Mac Gabhann says, the students interviewed providers, including clinicians, prison administrators, state employees, and faith-based organizations, to “get a comprehensive picture of the issues,” which center around “discrimination and lack of access to services” as well as a lack of awareness regarding existing services.
At the end of the trip, the groups presented their findings and updated brochures to MCJ’s staff as well as representatives from other organizations, such as Grace House and the University of Mississippi Medical Center, working in health care and with HIV. The pamphlets will be handed out by service providers throughout the state.
The trip wasn’t all work, though. The students visited the Medgar Evers House in Jackson—and, “completely by chance,” says Davis, ran into Myrlie Evers-Williams, Evers’s widow and a civil rights leader, who stopped and spoke with the students.
A trip like this one “provides a holistic view of what public interest lawyers do,” says Mac Gabhann. It “gives people a lot more of a hands-on opportunity to test out their lawyering skills.”
And they even got to visit the Catfish Museum.
Top picture, front row: 2L Victoria Chihos, 1L Blake Walsh, MCJ Fellow Courtney Choi, 1L Stacey Siegel, 2L Lizzie Peterson, 1L Liz Rinehart, 2L Rebecca Maddox, 3L Lucy Mac Gabhann. Back row: 1L Casey Rojas, 2L Chad Brooker, 2L Maggie Davis, MCJ Fellow Marni Von Wilpert, 2L Brandon Moore
Bottom picture: Maggie Davis and Brandon Moore, both 2L, present their findings to staff from MCJ and other organizations.
Rachel W. W. Granfield