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Law students serve others during coronavirus crisis

Students in the School of Law are doing amazing things to help others amidst the COVID-19 crisis – even beyond their regular commitments of attending law school. Here’s a sampling.

Brianna Hill works to preserve immigrant rights in court proceedings. As an intern at Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, she researches how video teleconferencing technology, used frequently in immigration court, can lead to due process violations. Due to COVID-19, the use of such technology will only increase, so she is researching how to improve the technology and protect immigrant rights as much as possible. Brianna is a Curt and Linda Rodin Social Justice Fellow.

 

Shannon Glover works as an overnight care staffer at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, a residential treatment facility for young people in Chicago. Although COVID-19 forced a reduction in operations, many on-campus clients had no safe place to go, so Shannon joined a 40-person team to provide direct care and crisis management on Mercy’s campus. She works 10-hour shifts, seven days a week (with every other week off). Shannon monitors and supports youth who have experienced complex development trauma during the quiet nighttime hours. During the pandemic, her responsibilities include helping youth to manage anxiety, reduce exposure, increase hygiene, and ensure campus safety. Shannon is a part-time extern with Ascend Justice, a legal services organization that assists families with DCFS expungement appeals. Shannon is also a Civitas ChildLaw fellow and a student in the Legislation and Policy Clinic this semester.

 

Peter McCool, MD, is an emergency physician at the Carle Richland Memorial Hospital in Olney and Crawford Memorial Hospital in Robinson, in downstate Illinois. “My hospital has one ventilator and 25 beds total! … When people come in, with concerning symptoms, and they are sick, we all do the same we would normally do, just with space suits, essentially. That means CPR, intubations, taking care of traumas/strokes/heart attacks—anything that comes through my doors. … We could quickly become overwhelmed and reach well past our capacity, putting many lives at risk. I'm proud of our system, though; they have really fully prepared. We have a large military-style tent out front of the ER entrance to utilize if needed for surges when they happen. And, they will happen. … Even though many of my patients have not been infected with the novel coronavirus yet, many of my patients are terrified. So I talk to them about the facts. I reassure them. I beg them to stay home if not sick [nor] requiring hospitalization so our hospitals can survive. I do this because I have to; we have to. All of us with this training in my position have to serve. There has never been a situation this dire in my lifetime, where doing my job well is this important—even if I won't be doing this job [for much longer as I am soon to become a lawyer]. Hopefully, I can reflect back on this moment in time with my law partners someday, and know that, collectively, we as Americans did the right thing.”

 

Pilar Mendez is a fellow at the Shriver Center for Poverty Law, where she is revising statutory language and drafting a memorandum to Sen. Celina Villanueva with the goal of the state of Illinois ending the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay tickets, failure to appear in court, driving on a suspended license, and failure to pay child support during the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s also working on a COVID-19 declaration for the Illinois Department of Corrections. Pilar is researching local government emergency powers and whether municipalities could enact their own paid sick leave and minimum wage ordinances.

 

Jaime Nolasco is an extern with the Federal Defender Program (FDP). Under the direction of FDP staff attorneys, Jaime is currently researching whether some elderly inmates held in federal prisons are eligible for compassionate release due to their high risk relating to COVID-19. Additionally, Jaime volunteers with the Illinois Prison Project, which provides direct representation to elderly veterans, habitual offenders, and individuals that are deemed “seriously mentally ill.” He will be drafting and reviewing resentencing petitions for elderly veterans and habitual offenders that focus on COVID-19's risk.

 

Maggie Pfeiffer works as a registered nurse in the ICU at St. Mary’s Hospital, which has been designated as a COVID-19 critical care unit. She takes care of patients that are intubated and require mechanical ventilation or patients at risk of respiratory failure. “I had five years of nursing experience before coming to law school, including ICU experience, but nursing during the pandemic has been very different,” she says. “One big difference is the very strict guidelines about wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) while taking care of COVID patients. Wearing the necessary PPE gear is not super comfortable, but I am thankful that the hospital has the equipment to keep us safe.”

 

Malachy Schrobilgen volunteers with the Center for Disability and Elder Law. Malachy has been reaching out to senior citizens in Chicago to ensure that they are safe, connected, and have access to food, medication, and friendly human contact in this time of social distancing. “I wanted to help people in a time where connection can help alleviate uncertainty and stress,” she says. “It has led to some great conversations and reassurance that we can all pull through this together.”

 

Thomas Siwula volunteers with Chicago’s Center for Disability and Elder Law by calling senior citizens to offer needed resources and services in light of COVID-19. During the calls, he also checks to ensure they are safe and conducts a quick survey of their needs around medical issues, food, housing, finances, and transportation. Thomas has been able to connect clients with emergency funds for housing and food assistance, information on social services benefits for those affected by COVID-19, and assistance in obtaining face masks.

 

Bobby Vanecko researches civil rights cases around police accountability issues for First Defense Legal Aid (FDLA). He staffs the hotline and, under the supervision of their attorneys, provides advice and referrals on legal issues including public benefits and unemployment insurance related to COVID-19. Additionally, Bobby helps with social media to promote a letter to Cook County officials drafted by the Cook County Bond Fund and signed on to by First Defense Legal Aid, as well as 100 other area organizations. The letter advocates for bringing people home from jail who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to their age, disability, or medical condition, as well as people who are in jail on unaffordable money bonds or technical parole violations. The letter also calls for steps to be taken to enhance the health and well-being of people in jail and on electronic monitoring. Bobby has participated in Chicago Community Bond Fund call-ins to Sheriff Dart, Chief Judge Evans, States Attorney Foxx, and Governor Pritzker, advocating for decarceration of Cook County jail and prisons statewide for public health reasons. In addition, Bobby is working with the Autonomous Tenants Union through Loyola's National Lawyers Guild, preparing a petition that asks the Governor to lift Illinois' ban on rent control and enact a rent freeze for the duration of the pandemic crisis.

 

Students in Loyola’s Health Justice Project clinic, led by Professor Kate Mitchell, are working hard to support clients and our community in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis:

The Health Justice Project’s students are working with Legal Aid Chicago to create an online intake system and provide advice and brief services related to health-harming legal needs to patients of the project’s medical partner, Erie Family Health Centers. For example, students advised Erie patients on a variety of poverty law issues including access to Medicaid and chemotherapy for a man with a terminal cancer diagnosis and other advice on accessing public benefits.

Other Health Justice Project students are continuing to serve their vulnerable clients remotely, advocating for health care and public benefits, helping clients to navigate the disability income systems, and supporting clients with immigration-related issues. Students now reach out to their clients—many of whom have chronic health issues—to assess newer and more immediate needs resulting from the COVID-19 crisis so they can connect clients to needed resources and inform them of protections that have been put in place. Loyola social work interns, Frank Obelnicki and Emi Buchan, and VISTA volunteer Jackie Silva identified and collected resources for the Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) Illinois web site, a site the Health Justice Project manages. The Project is sharing this site with other advocates in the medical-legal partnership community statewide as well as our health partners at Loyola Medicine and on Loyola’s Health Sciences Campus hoping that it will increase the capacities of providers throughout our system to better meet the growing needs of our vulnerable patients and clients.

Are you a member of the Loyola School of Law community and performing work related to the coronavirus crisis? Let us know.

For more information about the University's response to COVID-19, visit the Loyola University Chicago coronavirus page.