Health Care Law: Miami Law Students Partner with Community Alliances and Miller School of Medicine on Health Disparities Project

Picture of Kristen Dagher and Lauren Jones

Kristen Dagher and Lauren Jones

Miami Law's Center for Ethics and Public Service Health Disparities Project continues its work into the fall with two inaugural student fellows. The Health Disparities Project, which grew from the Center for Ethics and Public Service's Community Equity Lab, comprises a collaboration among the School of Medicine's M.D./M.P.H. Program, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the Center's long-standing community partners.

This medical-legal-community partnership is guided in part by recent law graduate and newly appointed lecturer Timothy Loftus, M.D., J.D. '21. Loftus, the Fredman Family Foundation Practitioner-in-Residence, oversaw the Health Disparities project for over a year. The project received a University of Miami U-LINK (University of Miami Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge) grant in Fall 2020. That research, titled "COVID-19: Evaluating Fault Lines in the Health of Our Communities and Developing Community-Centered Solutions," is in the final stage of data collection.

Second-year law students Lauren Jones, M.P.H., and Kristen Dagher, M.S., started as interns for the project in the Spring of 2021. After continuing their work for the project through the summer, they began serving as fellows at the start of the fall semester. In addition to participating in community meetings and working alongside the M.D./M.P.H. students on data visualization, the students have been conducting related law and policy research on healthcare quality and accessibility in Miami-Dade County and assessing legal remedies and policy proposals.

Jones, a Hunton Andrews Kurth Fellow, is particularly passionate about transparency and accountability in health care. "Right now," she said, "healthcare providers are uniquely situated to address health disparities, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic." Jones is thankful to be a part of the Health Disparities Project and work alongside powerful voices and advocates in the healthcare arena and the community.

Dagher, an Akerman Fellow for the project, particularly enjoys the interdisciplinary aspect of the research that relies heavily on the community as a critical piece to the partnership. The heart of this project, she explains, is community guidance. "Although the data analysis may discern which health disparities are most persistent, it cannot replace community voices on how to best address the inequity. Ensuring the Coconut Grove Village West residents are listened to and addressed is our main focus."

As the Community Equity Lab's Health Disparities Project heads into its second year, the project is being expanded to not only continue work with long-time Village West partners but with the CEPS Historic Black Church Program's 60 plus inner-city, faith-based, nonprofit, and neighborhood associations throughout Miami-Dade County. The Health Disparity Project's focus has expanded to address health disparities in cardiovascular disease, cancer, HIV, and mental health. The project aims to address these critical areas with bidirectional community dialogue and advocacy campaigns aiming at underlying drivers of health that impact low-income communities of color in Miami-Dade County.

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