Beth Karpiak

The Project

Beth provided outreach and advocacy to veterans and athletes with traumatic brain injuries to ensure that this growing population is free from abuse and neglect, and that the rights of individuals with traumatic brain injuries are protected.

About 5.3 million people in the United States are living with a disabil¬ity related to a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Recently, the Centers for Disease Control has identified the emergence of TBIs in large numbers among veterans and athletes. The effects of TBIs often manifest in behaviors that prompt others to respond with undue physical force or inappropriate medication, and to question a person’s ability to honestly report incidents of abuse and neglect. Thus, as these individuals face the physical and mental challenges of recovery, they become highly susceptible to victimization. This project will implement a comprehensive strategy to provide education and advocacy services to these growing and underserved populations, and will ensure that people with TBIs can return to successful, independent lives in their communities.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Beth has:

  • Conducted trainings and outreach events for service providers and more than 1,000 individuals with brain injuries on legal rights in the areas of safety from abuse and neglect, financial exploitation, and self- advocacy
  • Provided referral information, self-advocacy assistance, advice and legal representation to more than 150 individuals
  • Monitored long-term care facilities serving individuals with brain injuries, including
  • Veterans nursing homes, for patients’ rights violations and systemic safety concerns
  • Investigated instances of abuse and neglect at healthcare facilities across the state of Illinois to issue alerts and recommendations that resulted in procedures being implemented to assure that the rights of people with disabilities are respected and enforced

The Project

Amanda established the first medical-legal partnership in Illinois to partner with child and adolescent behavioral health providers, allowing her to advocate for improved health outcomes and family stability for children and families with behavioral health needs through direct representation, training, and policy advocacy.

One in five children experience mental illness, yet only 20% of those identified receive adequate mental health services. When these children are unable to access adequate and early treatment, they are thrown into a vicious cycle leading to negative health outcomes and other unmet legal and social needs. Moreover, 57% of these children come from households living in poverty and their rates of suspension and expulsion are three times higher than their peers. Additionally, through custody relinquishment, children can be torn from their families and placed into the foster care system as the only way to access mental health services. This project provided preventative legal care through direct representation, community outreach, technical assistance, and policy advocacy to prevent these tragic outcomes and improve the overall health and wellbeing of these children.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Amanda has

  • Partnered with Mt. Sinai Hospital’s Under the Rainbow clinic to provide free legal services to their clients, establishing the first pediatric behavioral health medical-legal partnership in Illinois
  • Worked with 118 clients on 196 legal cases to address a broad range of health-harming legal needs, such as special education, school discipline, SSI, immigration, and emergency planning for families in fear of deportation
  • Collaborated with community stakeholders and coalitions to pursue systemic change through administrative and legislative advocacy, including broad efforts to reform Illinois’ behavioral health system.

What’s Next?

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Amanda plans to:

  • Work as a staff attorney with her host organization, Legal Council for Health Justice.
  • Continue in her role as the project lead for the medical-legal partnership program developed with Mt. Sinai’s Under the Rainbow program through her Equal Justice Works fellowship.
  • Work to expand the program at Under the Rainbow to serve more clients and address additional health-harming legal needs with the hopes of expanding the program to Mt. Sinai’s behavioral health program as a whole, serving children and adults.