Solomon Center Launches New Elder Law Project
Over the 2019–2020 academic year, the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy at Yale Law School launched The Adrienne C. Drell and Franklin W. Nitikman Elder Law Project to explore aging and the law through multiple prongs — academic, experiential and theoretical. This exciting new project is inspired and supported by Adrienne Drell ’92 M.S.L. and Franklin Nitikman ’66 LL.B.
“This is such an important area for the Solomon Center to enter,” said Professor Abbe R. Gluck ’00, Faculty Director of the Solomon Center. “The health, health care and care of our aging population — which continues to grow exponentially — will be one of the most important health law and policy questions of our generation. We are so grateful to Adrienne Drell and Frank Nitikman for helping to put the Solomon Center at the forefront of this pressing issue.”
As part of the launch, the Solomon Center offered a pathbreaking seminar on “Aging and the Law,” during the Spring 2020 semester, marking the first time in years that such a course has been taught at the Law School. The course was co-taught by Visiting Professor of Law Nina Kohn, a leading elder law expert from Syracuse University College of Law, and Kevin Cremin ’00, Director of Litigation for Disability and Aging Rights at Mobilization for Justice. It included an innovative experiential component in which students worked on a variety of real-world projects ranging from a project for the Center for Medicare Advocacy on home health care to an AARP project focusing on health disparities in later life.
The project also expands the Center’s clinical offering — the Medical Legal Partnership (MLP) program — to include a Geriatric MLP that will target legal services to the elderly. The MLP program provides traditional direct legal services in a medical setting to address disparities in populations that do not always have access to lawyers. The Center currently participates in five diverse MLPs — for immigrants, veterans, children, the formerly incarcerated, and palliative care patients. The Geriatric MLP will launch through a partnership between the palliative care and geriatric teams at Yale New Haven Hospital designed to coordinate holistic care for COVID-19 patients.
A series of important academic initiatives are also underway through the Elder Law Project, including a groundbreaking new book coedited by Gluck and Jacquin D. Bierman Professor in Taxation Anne Alstott ’87. The book aims to reconceive the entire U.S. legal and regulatory system — from education to housing to reproductive rights — in light of the 100-year-old American. The book includes chapters from leading legal minds across many disciplines — rather than aging experts per se —including Kate Andrias ’04, Eleanor Brown ‘99, Cynthia Estlund ’83, Jamal Greene ’05, Sara Greene ’05, Daniel Hemel ’12, John Morley ’06, Lior Strahilevitz ’99, Kenji Yoshino ’96, and Taisu Zhang ’08. The Initiative’s other academic work included legal advocacy and scholarship related to the plight of the elderly in residential settings, which was emphasized during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the Center held public events on aging and the law to cap off the project’s first academic year. A major event on elder fraud with Connecticut U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal ’73 and other prominent experts, originally scheduled for this spring, will take place in the 20–21 school year.
Finally, the Center is also launching a first-of-its kind collaboration on palliative care policy with the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC), a national organization dedicated to increasing the availability of quality health care for people living with a serious illness. CAPC is part of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City. The new partnership involves developing a unique state palliative care policy database to educate practitioners and families about options available while also providing an essential tool for policymakers seeking to address significant gaps in palliative care treatment and access. To launch the collaboration, in February 2020, the Center hosted a standing room-only event with Dr. Diane Meier — a pioneer in the field of palliative care who is Director of CAPC. Dr. Meier discussed the cutting-edge ways in which certain states are expanding access to palliative care, while also identifying critical areas for reform.
“We are enormously grateful to Adrienne Drell and Frank Nitikman for their vision and dedication to tackling this critically important area of the law,” said Dean Heather K. Gerken. “Their generosity provides our students and faculty with a one-of-a-kind opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our senior population, which needs support now more than ever.”
Drell was a journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times specializing in legal issues and later a journalism professor at Northwestern University. Nitikman was a prominent estate planning attorney for more than 40 years with the Chicago law firm of McDermott, Will and Emery. Both Drell and Nitikman became very interested in senior issues through their work and the experiences they had with their own elderly parents.
“As a result of our experiences and because we had elderly parents, both Frank and I were very interested in senior issues. This became even more relevant when Frank developed Frontal Temporal Degeneration and, very much against his character, became a victim of fraud schemes,” explained Drell, who later learned how common scams and fraud against those in their later years is around the country. According to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, seniors lose 2.9 billion annually from financial exploitation.
Upon learning that many of the country’s leading law schools — including Yale — did not offer elder law courses, Drell decided that it was a priority to change the trend.
“I felt immediate action was needed to help train young attorneys about issues affecting the aged,” said Drell. “It is our hope that Yale’s program will draw attention nationally to problems involving seniors.”