Legal Advocate

Krista Selnau '09 is a lawyer, but she doesn't spend much time in the courtroom. Selnau, who was a dual politics and history and english major, is working with the Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock to support low-income families who use the hospital's Hematology/Oncology Clinic.

It's a position that Selnau designed herself as one of 57 Equal Justice Works Fellows. The fellowship, sponsored by Walmart and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, is enabling Selnau to pursue her dream job. In this case, a public interest law project based at Legal Aid of Arkansas Medical- Legal Partnership at Arkansas Children's Hospital.

"I will be training the health care providers at the clinic to help identify the range of legal needs affecting this low-income population," Selnau says. "Arkansas Children's Hospital is the only facility in the state that treats kids for cancer. There is such a need for this type of project in the state."

In order to earn the fellowship, Selnau had to complete a 20-page application identifying the needs in the community, how she would address them, and why she was the best fit to address those needs.

Those legal needs facing patients and their families are wide-ranging. Some patients may have insurance or Medicaid issues, while in other cases, young children simply may not be able to get to school. All of these could have an effect on a young person's health care.

"If you are a low-income family or you are facing other stressors, you might need help adhering to your medical plan. Often times, people don't know they should ask for help."

Selnau is trying to change that, by setting up a system where new patients and families entering the Hematology/ Oncology Clinic undergo a legal "checkup." Medical staff or social workers ask a short set of questions about social and economic issues that will help target the areas most in need of support.

Part of Selnau's job is also educating medical workers about the benefits of a medical-legal partnership-and ensuring them that it will benefit their patients.

"The goal over the two-year project is to develop some type of infrastructure that is sustainable," Selnau says. "Before I arrived, the Hematology/Oncology Clinic had only sent over a couple of referrals [to Legal Aid of Arkansas], so my goal is to train providers to identify these issues and put these procedures in place to streamline the process."

This is a very personal mission for Selnau. When she was nine-years old, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer which was treated through chemotherapy, and the amputation of Selnau's left leg at the knee.

Selnau considers herself fortunate because while she battled cancer she had a supportive network of friends and family. In one instance, a teacher volunteered her time to tutor Selnau at the hospital and at home. Later, after her amputation, Selnau's school helped her purchase a specialized wheelchair that would make it easier for her to go up and down the stairs.

It's this experience that helps Selnau understand the unique needs of cancer patients and their families.

"I realize that not everyone is fortunate enough to have a family who can take time off from work when they need to, or a school that is able to purchase equipment
[like that wheelchair]. That led me to thinking, 'wow, this could have been very different if I lived in a different town, or had a different family, or my parents' employers weren't as understanding.'"

Selnau's personal experience with cancer may have served as the initial inspiration for her legal advocacy work, but it was an internship she completed at Curry College that helped lay the foundation for the work she is doing now.

During her junior year experiential learning class, Selnau completed an internship in the office of the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy-a noted health care advocate.

"I had the opportunity to work with a lot of different constituents, so it taught me how to handle different needs that people may have, and address them in a meaningful way." Selnau says. "I had this light bulb moment that I need to go to law school; this is what I want to do."

Selnau says her work in Arkansas is only the start. She wants to continue doing public interest legal work, specifically focusing on areas of public health and policy with the goal of identifying longterm trends that could lead to better care for patients.

"It makes me feel really proud that I was able to go to Curry College where I received the support I needed to discover what I wanted to do and to then have the
opportunity to do work that is my dream job is very meaningful and important to me."


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