Health Forward fellow sees impact of policy, advocacy on public health

Maggie Turek, Health Forward's Health Law and Policy Fellow, visited attended the 2016 Public Health Law Conference.

The 2016 Public Health Law Conference was held in Washington D.C.

During law school, I was lucky enough to have internships that opened my eyes to the intersection of law and health. Following fantastic internship opportunities with Legal Aid of Western Missouri and KU’s Medical Legal Partnership Clinic, I was thrilled to accept an internship as Health Forward’s Health Law and Policy Fellow.

I was excited about this position because I wanted to see another side of the legal field—the impact that policy and advocacy could have on the law. Specifically, I was about to learn about some emerging issues in public health law and health policy that could impact Health Forward’s service area.

During my internship, I worked closely with program and policy officer Jessica Hembree. As she helped me explore Health Forward’s policy agenda, I was charged with researching five potential policy changes that could be implemented on the local level. To do so, I met with members from each of Health Forward’s teams to talk about emerging policy and funding opportunities, projects on the horizon, and topics they wanted to know more about.

After this initial research and interviews, Jessica and I found some areas that I would take a deep dive into over the summer:

  • Mobile markets and other methods to increase access to fresh produce and other healthy foods within Kansas City’s food deserts
  • Licensing and zoning strategies to decrease the density of tobacco retailers
  • Changes made to the federal education law with the Every Student Succeeds Act, including provisions providing funding flexibility for at-risk student groups and mental health

To focus on these topics, I explored innovative law and policy guidelines, spoke with community members who have an interest or an impact on these local policy areas, and read countless articles from other communities that had attempted similar changes, taking note of what worked and did not work for them.

To round out my research, I used some of the legal research strategies I learned in law school to find applicable state and local laws and look for ways that current laws and ordinances may impact any policy goals. I completed the project with a memo about each topic and a presentation over lunch to the Health Forward staff to pass along all that I learned during my internship.

At the conclusion of my internship, Health Forward graciously sent me to the 2016 Public Health Law Conference in Washington D.C., where I learned about emerging issues in public health law. All of the sessions provided valuable information, but some were particularly memorable for me as a law student interested in health law.

One presentation detailed the perfect storm of institutional and regulatory failures that led to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. I also attended a session on the importance of training police on public health. Often, police are the first responders during a drug overdose, and in the midst of a disease outbreak, they would likely be hands-on—meaning they are truly on the front lines during many health crises. Communities would benefit by ensuring they are well equipped to deal with such issues.

One of the most memorable speakers was Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2014–2017. He advocated for increased awareness of the dangers of prescription painkillers, expanded use of naloxone to treat overdoses, and combatting the spread of disease by injection drug users. Botticelli’s insight on substance use and abuse was particularly interesting as he was the first individual in recovery to hold his position.

After soaking in as much as I could during the conference, I spent my evenings checking out the sights. As a law student who had never been to D.C., I was in heaven! I quietly strolled through the vast and solemn Arlington National Cemetery, stood on the steps of the Supreme Court, and browsed through the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The highlight for me, though, was a free walking tour that led us through the monuments on the National Mall at night. Seeing the monuments lit up was breathtaking and possibly the best way to view them.

Aside from the learning opportunities Health Forward gave me, I hope that I was able to give back to them with my research about ways to make positive, healthy changes to the surrounding community. I loved this internship because it taught me so much about working toward positive change. It also confirmed that I love the intersection of law and health policy, and it opened my eyes to the groups and leaders in the community that are already making a difference.

This internship also made me think about how I want to contribute as a young professional. As I look to begin my career in the Kansas City area, I hope to do so in a way that helps my community and the people in it.

Health Forward

One thought on “Health Forward fellow sees impact of policy, advocacy on public health

    Great post, Maggie. It’s always exciting to see the law being used as a tool for improvements in public health. I look forward to seeing your professional career develop and the impact you can make on the greater Kansas City community!

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