BU Law alumni at New York’s largest healthcare provider focus on diverse areas of law to serve their community.
What is health law? When you work for a large healthcare organization, it includes practice areas ranging from litigation, tax, and compliance to real estate, employment, and technology. “The difference in healthcare is that everything has a twist,” says Laurence (Larry) Kraemer (’81), senior vice president and general counsel at Northwell Health. “This is a regulated industry, so lawyers need to be aware of how regulatory schemes impact everything we do.”
As New York’s largest healthcare provider, Northwell Health is comprised of 23 hospitals and 750 ambulatory sites. It owns 300+ legal entities, including not-for-profit organizations, limited liability corporations, for-profit companies, real-estate companies, and a research organization. “This large health system requires a broad variety of legal practitioners as well as lawyers who understand strategy and business operations,” notes Kraemer, who sits on more than 80 boards of Northwell’s affiliates.
The seven BU Law alumni at Northwell are good examples of this breadth of practice.
As vice president in the Office of Legal Affairs, Alexandra (Alex) Trinkoff (’89), describes herself as a health law generalist. “I’ve done just about everything in this field, but I currently specialize in managed care negotiations and enforcement of contracts, which constitutes approximately $11 billion of Northwell’s revenue. I also oversee the on-call legal practice for our in-house team. We are available 24-7, 365 days a year to our provider clients.”
In addition, Trinkoff writes and reviews medical legal policies, which often merge law and ethics. “It’s not uncommon to find patients distrustful of the medical community. I work with providers on respecting patients’ rights to facilitate a collaborative decision-making process and ensure that clinicians have a pathway to help patients receive appropriate care.”
She points to the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment as an example. “We work with clinicians who have patients who may want to withdraw care when it is not medically indicated and others who want all measures taken when not medically appropriate. We’ve created a platform that provides clinicians with the applicable legal standards as well as problem-solving algorithms. We try to support clinicians and patients without having to go to court. This is the approach we take on all difficult ethical issues, such as patient bias and vaccine reluctance.”
While Christine White (LAW/SPH’93), vice president of legal affairs, works in the same office, she focuses on transactional, corporate, governance and regulatory issues. “The healthcare industry is in a period of rapid transformation, which is leading to new and innovative types of partnerships and collaborative activities with both government and business entities. It is very rewarding to provide the legal support for government pilot programs and novel business arrangements that lead to better population health, care management, and access for New Yorkers,” says White, who serves on the board of directors of the American Health Lawyers Association and is coeditor and coauthor of Antitrust and Healthcare: A Comprehensive Guide.
Down the hall, Senior Associate General Counsel Joanna Bergmann (LAW’01, SPH’02) focuses on regulatory issues, particularly ones related to clinical trials and research. “I help move the needle forward on projects, and sometimes this involves being at the forefront of new issues.”
She points to data and privacy as examples. “We have a lot of data, which is valuable to other companies, but we need to ensure that we don’t violate privacy and conflict of interest laws when we enter agreements about the use of that data. This also comes up when our researchers want to collaborate with people around the world. Who has access to their shared database? How is that data subject to data laws in other places like the European Union? This is an exciting practice area.”
In the Office of the CIO, Lucia Deng (’05), serves as director of IT legal. Focusing on transactions, she negotiates healthcare technology acquisitions. “I review contracts to protect the health system from risk, and in this day and age, that often means assessing our privacy exposure and protecting our patients’ data.”
Other BU Law alumni at Northwell include Kathryn Howell (’90), acting president of CareConnect Insurance Co., North Shore-LIJ Health Plan (owned by Northwell), and Phil Lerner (’74), vice president of legal affairs, who leads the real estate and finance areas.
Kraemer credits BU Law faculty like Professor Emerita Frances Miller with inspiring many students to pursue careers in health law. “Professor Miller started one of the first health law courses when I was at BU Law. Most of us had never heard of health law before, but she created a culture around it and encouraged interested students to work in this area.”
Deng agrees. “At the start of every class, Professor Miller would take out a newspaper and talk about all the health stories and how the law is involved. She demonstrated how ubiquitous and exciting this specialty is.”
Professor Miller’s mentorship was also inspiring to her students. “Professor Miller has enthusiastically followed my career path, including stints at the Federal Trade Commission and large national firms, as well as my current position,” White says. “We are still in touch and I continue to learn from every conversation with her!”
While most of the BU Law alumni at Northwell became interested in health law because of Professor Miller’s classes and mentorship, they point out that there are many pathways to this area. “There are legal areas that might not seem obvious, but that are increasingly important in this space like IP, data, and privacy. There are huge opportunities in this field and it’s a great area for all kinds of lawyers,” says Bergmann.
Kraemer adds that regardless of law students’ focus in school, BU Law prepares them well to work in this field. “The curriculum trains students to think outside the box and work as a team. Healthcare organizations need smart people who can pull in the same direction and keep up with changing laws as the industry seeks to transform to improve quality and access to healthcare.”
He notes that it’s also a rewarding area of practice. “Healthcare is a local and community service. It’s an area where you can do good and make a positive impact.”
Reported by Meghan Laska
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