September 28, 2010

Law school hosts expert in medical liability law

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Frank M. McClellan, a nationally recognized expert in medical liability law, will discuss the impact of health care reforms in alleviating disparities within the system later this week at the Southern Illinois University School of Law.

While most of the debate and the new laws focus on a person’s access to health care, McClellan believes that for an affordable health care system to succeed, the need is to re-prioritize and focus strategies on social factors that have the most influence in determining health.

McClellan, Professor of Law Emeritus of the Beasley School of Law at Temple University, will deliver the 2010 Dr. Arthur Grayson Distinguished Lecture, “Health Disparities, Race, and Health Care Reform: Where are We, and Where Do We Want to Go?” The lecture will take place at 5 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 30, in the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building auditorium. The lecture is free and open to the public. A video feed of the lecture will also be available at the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, and available later on the law school’s website at

Media Availability

Reporters, photographers and news crews are welcome to cover the lecture. Frank McClellan will be available for interviews both prior to and after the lecture. To make arrangements for interviews or for more information on the event, contact Alicia Ruiz, the law school’s director of communication and outreach, at 618/453-8700.

McClellan is currently the SIU School of Law Garwin Visiting Distinguished Professor of Law and Medicine.

Dean Cynthia L. Fountaine said she looks forward to McClellan’s presentation.

“Now, more than ever, the work of the law school’s Center for Health Law and Policy, including this lecture series, is an important resource for the public as well as for the legal and medical communities,” she said. “Although this is my first year as dean, I see that this lecture series has brought many nationally recognized scholars to campus over the years. That is a great opportunity for our students and faculty, and also for the citizens in Southern Illinois. As the national conversation about health care continues, I hope that people will take advantage of opportunities like this to hear from individuals who have spent their careers studying these issues. I also want to thank the Garwin FamilyFoundation for their financial support, which allows us to make these opportunities possible.”

The Grayson Distinguished Lecture is one of the longest-running lecture series in the law school, said W. Eugene Basanta, the law school’s Southern Illinois Healthcare Professor of Law. Now in its 14th year, he series has featured outstanding national figures including David A. Kessler, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and William H. Colby, a Senior Fellow with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Colby represented the family of Nancy Cruzan in their family’s right-to-die case, the first such case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989.

While access for an estimated 40 million people who are without health care is vital in system reforms, McClellan said the health needs of 200 million people with illnesses that could have been controlled or eliminated much earlier also need to be addressed. Studies consistently show that minorities and people living in poorer socio-economic regions of the country are more likely to become sick and have a shorter life expectancy.

Even with increased access to health care, major issues of timely access and cultural competence remain, McClellan said. Cultural competence involves health care providers who relate to patients and understand existing environmental factors that allow patients to participate meaningfully with the providers in their health care, Basanta said.

If large portions of the population are sick, the nation will not have a health care system that is affordable, McClellan said. The United States has the best technology, highest trained medical health care force, yet one of the worst medical delivery systems in the developed world, he said.

“Part of the answer is that we spend most of our time and money and public attention on treating and curing complex diseases and too little time making sure that basic primary care and health education are available, and that health care providers have an understanding of how to effectively deliver care,” McClellan said. “We are going to have to reconfigure how we deliver services, who delivers the services, and in what environment they deliver the services.”

Health care reform laws, several of which went into effect last week, are a “critical first step,” that has tremendous promise, McClellan said. The law includes provisions to support research on health disparities for education and training on cultural competence. McClellan supports utilizing nurse practitioners and community organizations to improve the system’s structure and development. The new health reform laws include plans for incentives for more primary care physicians and nurse practitioners.

As health care providers and physicians work out details of the new health care laws, Basanta said the possibility that some of the provisions may change before they take effect is unsettling.

McClellan said he hopes those who attend the lecture will realize “we have to support development of policies nationally and in our local communities that begin to address the social determinants of health.”

He recently returned from a conference in Chicago where an internist spoke of “Project Brotherhood,” which seeks to provide increased primary medical care and early diagnosis to African American men. About 30 doctors set up shop in a barbershop where men come not only for free haircuts, but the chance to talk with doctors about various health issues. Because of “that one little small step,” patients who otherwise might not seek medical help until more serious problems arise, receive earlier diagnosis of prostrate cancer, along with counseling on obesity, health, and other concerns, McClellan said.

“They went to the community and found out the factors and barriers, and then built a program of health delivery that is sensitive and responsive to the barriers,” McClellan said.

“The social approach to the problem allowed the medical delivery to be effective,” he said.

McClellan said he is pleased to be at the law school this year. While here, he is also working on a book on tort law and issues of race, which McClellan said is sort of a memoir on cases he has been involved with over the past 30 years. He is also in the midst of writing a book on health disparity, which at this point in time, is a more pressing issue.

“This faculty, particularly in law and medicine and this program, has long been recognized as one of the leading schools in the country for doing innovative work both in terms of education and scholarship,” McClellan said.

The Garwin Family Foundation, created in 1993 for the purpose of fostering educational and academic research, funds the Grayson Distinguished Lecture. Ruth and Leo Garwin were founding members of the foundation. The lecture honors Ruth Garwin’s brother, Arthur Grayson, a Los Angeles surgeon who died in 1990.