Student Spotlight

Fellowship Leads Students to Propose New Laws to Protect the Elderly from Abuse

Michelle Walton '18 and Candace Williamson '18

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With an eye on protecting the elderly population's most vulnerable from abuse, neglect and breaches of privacy at nursing homes,  Michelle Walton '18 and Candace Williamson '18 examined the laws in place and proposed amending specific statutes. The summer work led to a 50-page paper exploring the guardianship system that will be distributed to New York state legislators and other influencers of public policy in the elder law arena, along with a fall independent study.

As Edgar '46 and Margaret Sandman Fellows, Walton was drawn to the work for her interest in public policy and legislative analysis, while Williamson grew concerned with this area of law after watching her grandparents face challenges that plague senior citizens.

Their paper, entitled "Privacy Rights of the Unbefriended with Dementia in Healthcare Facilities," explored the complexity of the guardianship process in New York, rights afforded to all individuals in health care facilities, and how protection of those rights is afforded to the elderly entering early stages of dementia. 

"We were surprised to learn that the law does not provide a trusted guardian to advocate for an elderly person who may be incapacitated, alone, and without advance planning," said Walton. "Someone needs to step in and make decisions for their well-being and their safety."

After digging into current law, they inadvertently uncovered more areas of elder law that needed fixing to protect those in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. They extended their research in the fall semester to pursue a 2-credit independent study for Professor Rose Mary Bailly examining the constitutionality of Surrogate's Court Procedure Act Article 17-A.

"Growing old is a fact of life," said Williamson, "but unnecessary suffering is not. There needs to be more laws in place, unfortunately, to prohibit institutions from abusing this population."

Walton is looking to work in public policy after graduation and thinks the Sandman Fellowship and the independent study experience affirms her career interests.

Williamson initially came to law school to affect change around families and communities. Her studies led her to develop an interest in elder law.  She has further developed her analytic, research, and writing skills through her internship at the Governor Cuomo's office and the Sandman Fellowship.  

Along with changing legislation, the two 3Ls also plan to publish their paper.

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