Growing up in San Francisco, Gordon Chan watched his two grandmothers live out their final days in vastly different ways, one at his home in San Francisco and the other cared for by strangers in an assisted living facility.
The stark differences helped inspire Chan, a UC Hastings 3L, to pursue a career in elder law.
Now he is researching California’s oversight of assisted living facilities, aided by what he learned last year offering legal assistance to UCSF patients through the Medical-Legal Partnership for Seniors (MLPS), a UC Hastings clinical course developed by the UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science and Health Policy.
“All our Partnership clients wanted to age in place,” said Chan. “I don’t think we dealt with one who said she wanted to spend the rest of her life in a nursing home.”
An estimated one in five Americans will be over 65 by 2030, which means the need for attorneys with expertise in aging and the health care system will grow exponentially.
“There is a huge demand for attorneys who are familiar with legal issues around older adults, aging and the health care system,” said Sarah Hooper ’08, an adjunct professor at UC Hastings and assistant director of the Consortium.
“What I’m seeing with these students is something we hoped for when we developed the MLPS,” added Hooper, whose research into advance directives with UCSF faculty spurred her to help found the clinic in 2009. “Students’ direct service to older adults triggered an interest in the broader policy issues they are pursuing.”
Now, Chan and Katelyn Phillips, a UC Hastings 2L who also assisted patients through the Partnership, are going the extra mile, digging in to issues sure to affect many of California’s growing number of older adults. Their research will culminate in papers written under Hooper’s supervision, with input from policy advocates in the community.
In particular, Chan is looking at how California regulates assisted living facilities, including the background of California’s assisted living waiver. The waiver is a Medi-Cal program that provides low-income older adults, who would otherwise require nursing home care, the option to live in an assisted living residence instead.
Meanwhile, Phillips, a native of Castro Valley, Calif., will investigate whether “senior real estate specialists” claiming special knowledge of real estate services for the elderly, are appropriately regulated. She plans to compare regulation of senior specialists in the financial services field with the rules used in the less scrutinized real estate industry.
Phillips hasn’t yet decided what kind of law she will practice after graduating. But she finds elder law, which brings together the intellectual challenge of complex law with very personal client interactions, a compelling combination.
Chan is more confident about heading toward a career working in elder law, an area in which knowledgeable skilled attorneys will be in hot demand as aging baby boomers swell the ranks of those needing an array of legal services related to their healthcare, financial, housing, and other needs.
“One of the best things about going to UC Hastings is that they offer these clinic programs,” said Chan. “While you learn theories in the classroom, you actually put those theories into practice when you’re in the clinic.”