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Leaders of the Akron Bar’s Health Law Section work to expand offerings

Legal News Reporter

Published: September 11, 2015

Created in 2009 to provide continuing legal education opportunities to Summit County healthcare attorneys, the Akron Bar Association Health Law Section is undergoing a period of transition as its leaders work to change the structure of the meetings and add other events to encourage the group’s 58 members to increase their participation, while giving others a reason to join.

“I was a part of the section from the start,” said former section chair Michael VanBuren, a health law partner at Brouse McDowell. “Prior to the section’s existence health law attorneys had to travel to the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association to attend CLE events.

“We wanted to offer something at the Akron Bar Association. Almost immediately we instituted CLE lunches,” said VanBuren. “Since the section got up and running around the same time as the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), there were a wide variety of topics to discuss and we were able to attract a number of lawyers to our meetings.

“But as the dust settled over Obamacare, we saw attendance begin to dwindle. At that point we began working to attract a wider group of attorneys by reaching out to the medical malpractice bar and expanding our scope of topics,” VanBuren said. “It appears we are at a crossroads again. The new chair and vice-chair are working with the bar association to come up with ideas to re-energize the section.”

Vice-chair Laura Fryan said one of the changes members will see this fall is a reduction in the length of the CLE presentations from three hours to 90 minutes.

 We used to have one three-hour CLE in the fall,” said Fryan, an associate at Brouse McDowell, who focuses on healthcare. “Now we are going to have two 90-minute presentations.

“We also plan to explore more joint presentations with the Stark County Bar Association,” said Fryan. “Last fall we partnered with the Stark County bar to offer a CLE on the Affordable Care Act and we had a very high attendance rate. We are talking about partnering with Stark County on more events and inviting their members to our CLEs as well.”

Fryan is new to the Akron Bar Association as well as the Health Law Section.

The Titusville, Pennsylvania native has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania. Fryan participated in the J.D./Master of Business Administration joint degree program at The University of Akron, graduating in 2014. That same year, she joined the bar association and the Health Law Section.  

“I joined the bar association and the Health Law Section so that I could form relationships with attorneys in the legal community outside of my firm,” said Fryan.

“The Health Law Section has lawyers with differing levels of experience, who work in a variety of healthcare-related areas. I think it’s important to be exposed to attorneys in all parts of the practice.”

Fryan said the growing use of nurse practitioners and physician assistants presents unique challenges to attorneys charged with helping clients navigate Medicaid/Medicare and other rules pertaining to such providers.

“The regulations are changing on a daily basis,” said Fryan. “Attending meetings is an important resource for members as they work to keep up.”

Health Law Section Chair Courtney Johnson also joined the bar association and Health Law Section in 2014.

Born in Canal Fulton, she received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and finance from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. After graduating from DePaul University College of Law in Chicago in 2010, Johnson began her career as an assistant public defender in the Broward County Public Defender’s Office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  

Prior to returning to Akron, she was an associate at the Florida P.I.P. Law Firm in Boca Raton, Florida where she handled insurance litigation on behalf of doctors and MRI facilities. She’s currently an associate at Perantinides & Nolan Co., where she focuses on plaintiff medical malpractice, wrongful death and personal injury cases.

“I became a lawyer to help people, which is why I started off in the public defender’s office,” said Johnson. “Health law has always been important to me. I’ve always been health-conscious and worked as a pharmacy technician throughout high school, college and some of law school, so being a healthcare attorney seemed like a natural progression.

“Joining the Health Law Section made a lot of sense to me because I did not know any of the local attorneys when I first moved back to the area.”

In addition to shortening the length of the CLEs, Johnson said she is looking at changing the days and times that meetings are held to make them more convenient. The meetings have taken place on the second Wednesday of the month at 11:45 a.m. at the Akron Bar Association (with the exception of December, July and August). Not all of them include CLE opportunities.

Johnson and Fryan are also planning to hold social events, including a cocktail party this fall at an Akron-area restaurant or at the Akron Bar Association. Additionally, they are working on finding an attorney to fill the now vacant spot of secretary/treasurer.

Johnson said the topics for this fall’s CLEs have already been determined and the first one is tentatively scheduled for Oct 15. It will cover the new subrogation statute, which takes effect this month. 

“The statute changes the manner in which an injured party is required to reimburse his/her insurance company,” said Johnson. “Essentially it states that if the patient’s recovery is diminished in some respect due to lack of insurance coverage or liability issues, then the amount the insurance company is entitled to receive as reimbursement is likewise diminished.”

The other CLE will address the recent Stark Law (the physician self-referral law) decisions and how to work with the government during investigations. The CLE is expected to take place on Nov. 5 and Johnson said she is planning to have a speaker from the Ohio Attorney General’s office discuss the topic.

“I think the current legal environment is incredibly competitive so it is difficult to bring attorneys together from both sides in a non-adversarial forum like a CLE meeting, which is something I would like to see change,” said Johnson.

“My goal is to have 100 percent participation from all our members.”

Outgoing section chair Stephen Grachanin, an associate at Perantinides & Nolan, Co., also discussed the growing adversarial climate in the health law arena, specifically the area of medical malpractice.

The Campbell, Ohio native first joined the Health Law Section in 2012 after being recruited by a former classmate at The University of Akron School of Law.

“Stephanie Angeloni, who was working at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, invited me to join the section and made me secretary/treasurer from day one. At the time, she was replacing Mike VanBuren as chair and there was no vice-chair,” said Grachanin.

“The following year, we were co-chairs together.” 

He said the section has changed quite a bit since he first got involved.

“Medical malpractice lawyers don’t work together anymore,” said Grachanin. “I think it’s partially due to the decrease in malpractice cases, as billable hours are down for defense lawyers.”

He said he has recommended a Peer Review CLE.  “Under Ohio law, when there is an accident, injury or death in a hospital, the hospital may hold a ‘peer review proceeding’ where the event is investigated, which is referred to as a ‘peer review committee.’ 

“The findings of such proceedings are confidential and are not discoverable,” Grachanin. “So in these cases, plaintiffs hit roadblocks all the time asking for medical records and documents and statements of hospital doctors and/or staff that the defense claim are ‘confidential under the peer review privilege.’ However, the defense needs to prove an actual peer review proceeding was held to claim the privilege.

“I feel that lawyers do not understand the peer review statute and what it actually covers,” said Grachanin. “Therefore, defense lawyers claim peer review privilege even when no peer review was actually conducted and plaintiff lawyers do not know how to compel production of the documents.”

Grachanin said offering a CLE explaining peer review to both sides would be beneficial.

He said he is hopeful that the current leadership can foster more participation among all members, especially those new to the profession.

“Both Laura and Courtney are younger attorneys and they are discussing adding social hours and other events that should help to rekindle the section,” said Grachanin.