Washburn Law Clinic community is ready to HELP Topeka Hospital Employees

Published: May. 1, 2020 at 8:10 PM CDT
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Washburn University Law Clinic is offering its HELP to local healthcare workers. Faculty, students, alumni and volunteer attorneys have launched the Washburn Hospital Employees Legal Preparedness Project (HELP) to provide remote legal assistance to employees who work at Topeka healthcare facilities free of charge.

“When we became aware of the real crisis facing healthcare workers who when they go to work and risking exposing themselves and their family members to the virus, we thought about what could we do that would be helpful to them,” Associate Professor for Washburn School of Law Michelle Ewert said Friday.

The Law Clinic regularly provides services like durable powers of attorney for healthcare and finance, living and simple wills to community members who cannot afford to go to an attorney.

According to Ewert, the risks of exposure to COVID-19 in a hospital setting highlighted the need for these legal services to be available for healthcare workers.

"I think people are really concerned about ‘what happens if I get sick what happens if I'm not able to make decisions about my kids...if I can't communicate with doctors about my own medical needs and if I need help paying bills if I'm temporarily incapacitated due to a COVID-19 diagnosis’” she said. “We thought we could target these services to this population to the hospital employees who are cleaning the facilities, serving the meals working with the patients.”

COVID-19 has also shown the importance of having these documents prepared for any emergency.

“Hopefully people will not become seriously ill, hopefully we will not see very many deaths in this community,” she said. “But this is to help people in the event that they do become ill, or become incapacitated for some reason so they can feel comfortable knowing that their family will be taken care of and the important decisions that need to be made to keep their lives moving forward will be made by someone they trust "

The entire process is done through video conferencing and phone calls.

Following a remote income screening, eligible hospital workers are paired with either a student intern or volunteer attorney who interviews the worker to discuss their legal needs and concerns drafts respective documents.

Ewert explained the Law Clinic is able to provide the services remotely because of a recent Executive Order that allows notarization to be done through audio visual conference instead of strictly being done in person.

“We're learning how to lawyer differently in response to the COVID crisis and social distancing requirements,” Ewert said. “When the client is ready to execute, [the person] can print out the document at home, be on audio visual conference call with the notary sign in front of the notary then scan and email to the notary for the notary to put the stamp on it so we're able to do this safely without people having to be in contact with each other.”

Aside from gaining legal experience through client experience, the students get to understand the clients human needs.

“We spend a lot of time in clinic talking with our students about the different challenges facing their clients such as financial pressures,” she said. “This is a helping profession people come to us in some of the most difficult times of their lives and we help them through that; we guide them through their options, we provide them with information about the possible consequences over which path they choose and we shepherd them through that.”

If you work at a hospital in Topeka and want to know if you are eligible for assistance from the HELP Project, call 785-670-1191 or email