Pro bono program is a new legal resource for Duke cancer patients

This Friday: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Duke Cancer Center’s Resource Center Skills Lab

This week marks the start of a new program that offers free legal information to patients at Duke Cancer Center.

The Cancer Pro Bono Legal Program is a partnership between the law schools at Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill. Volunteer law students, under the supervision of licensed attorneys, will help patients create power of attorney and health care power of attorney documents as well as host monthly seminars on topics relevant to patients with chronic illnesses.

Chrissy Cianflone, J.D., administrative director of Cancer Health Policy and Outcomes Research at Duke Cancer Institute, had the idea for the program. About a year and a half ago, Cianflone’s father was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called cholangiocarcinoma, and he passed away after only 13 weeks. During that time, Cianflone experienced firsthand the legal challenges cancer patients, their families and loved ones face.

“In the end we weren’t lucky because I lost my dad, but we were lucky in that we had the knowledge and the access to relevant legal information,” Cianflone said. “All I kept thinking about was what about those poor families who were going through the same thing and did not have access to the same resources.”

Recognizing the importance of experiential learning opportunities for law students, Cianflone started a pro bono legal program to help patients without access to legal services at George Washington University Law School and GW Cancer Institute in 2011, where she was working at the time. When she joined Duke Cancer Institute in June 2012, Cianflone helped law faculty at Duke and UNC form a partnership that would serve patients at Duke Cancer Center and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

About 100 student volunteers from both law schools have gone through training sessions to help them prepare for their work with patients. Allison Rice, J.D., a program advisor and supervising attorney for the Duke AIDS Legal Project, taught a session on the statutory requirements for advanced care planning documents, and other trainings have covered communication strategies and practice patient interview sessions.

Law students will be available to cancer patients at Duke Cancer Center on the first and third Fridays of each month from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the center’s Resource Center Skills Lab, beginning this Friday, Feb. 15. At UNC, students will be available on the second and fourth Fridays of each month at the Lineberger Cancer Center. Volunteer attorneys will also be present to supervise the students and to answer patient questions and provide appropriate resource referral.

On the last Friday of each month, patients at Duke can attend “Know Your Rights” seminars on topics such as insurance coverage, employment issues, disability rights, and advanced care and financial planning. The sessions will begin Fri., March 1 at noon in the O level conference room.

Cianflone said the pro bono program is also going to try to work with the Duke Cancer Network to offer the “Know Your Rights” presentations via webinar so patients who live outside of the Triangle or who are not well enough to attend the sessions still have access to the information.

The Cancer Pro Bono Legal Program has also formed partnerships with the North Carolina Bar Association, which is providing volunteer attorneys and malpractice coverage, the North Carolina Society of Health Care Attorneys, which is recruiting volunteer attorneys, and the Cancer Legal Resource Center, a joint program of Disability Rights Legal Center and Loyola Law School, that is providing training for the “Know Your Rights” sessions and access to a legal hotline the pro bono program will refer patients to when they need more information.

If you have questions about this program or would like more information, contact Chrissy Cianflone, chrissy.cianflone@duke.edu.

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