Navigating the complexities of health care: Q&A with Kara Morgenstern, J.D., M.P.H.

August 9, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

Headlines recently caught up with Kara Morgenstern, J.D., M.P.H., associate vice president and deputy general counsel at U-M, to discuss the complexities of health care law and how her office can help all members of the Michigan Medicine community navigate this ever-changing field.

Here’s what she had to say:

Q: Can you explain your role and the role your office plays at Michigan Medicine?

KM: The Office of the Vice President and General Counsel (OGC) provides legal advice and representation to the University of Michigan, including the board of regents, the president, the executive officers, the schools and colleges on all three campuses, and Michigan Medicine.

As a whole, OGC has 25 attorneys and 6 paralegals with a diverse range of subject-matter expertise. We consider ourselves in the service business and we help our clients fulfil their goals while meeting legal and policy requirements.

OGC is overseen by Vice President and General Counsel Tim Lynch, and I supervise eight attorneys and two paralegals dedicated full-time to Michigan Medicine. I also work with my colleagues throughout OGC to provide advice to Michigan Medicine. I oversee and coordinate the efforts of the team and keep both Michigan Medicine leadership and our General Counsel informed of legal matters and developments.

Q: When should your office be contacted?

KM: OGC is a resource. Engage us early if you have a legal concern, a question about how a new law impacts your work or even if you just want some informal thoughts on a new initiative you are considering.

We are also available to present at orientation sessions, staff meetings or events. When it comes to day-to-day legal questions, we just launched a redesigned website with FAQs addressing topics ranging from a health care professional’s reporting obligations to challenging consent issues.

Q: What are some of the more unusual or noteworthy things your office has addressed?

KM: We have no shortage of “unusual.” With attorneys on-call 24/7, we get some interesting questions, including “What kind of animals can be being brought into the hospital?” Believe it or not, miniature horses may qualify as a service animal; monkeys do not…

On an annual basis we also handle more than 450 attorney-on-call questions. Some examples of recent noteworthy OGC contributions include assisting Michigan Medicine in:

  • Launching new and innovative affiliations (Metro Hospital) and patient care models (Oncology Care Model);
  • Enhancing accessibility to better, evidenced-based health care (tele-stroke); and
  • Engaging in research trials to make investigational drugs and devices accessible to patients.

Q: What do you feel is your office’s greatest impact on Michigan Medicine and its three-part mission?

KM: The work of an academic medical center is complex and decentralized, yet highly regulated. Practices that make perfectly good sense in the general business world often implicate an array of laws and regulations in the health care context. That complexity can sometimes be overwhelming.

OGC impacts Michigan Medicine by helping to navigate the challenging regulatory landscape, assessing risks that may impact business decisions and workflow design, and supporting an environment that enables all members of the Michigan Medicine workforce, including faculty, staff, students and volunteers, to focus on and succeed in their daily work in a safe, collegial and compliant environment.

Q: What do you find the most satisfying part of your job?

KM: Three main things come to mind: 1) I am never bored; 2) I learn something new every day; and 3) I get to work with a great team.

It is a daily honor and thrill to work with the full spectrum of the Michigan Medicine workforce across a wildly diverse portfolio of issues. One day I might get paged as the attorney-on-call by a medical student trying to help a patient complete a will before discharge to hospice, the next I am briefing the regents on proposed changes to their bylaws.

The team I work with is talented, hard-working and fun. We are well-supported by a General Counsel who is highly engaged with Michigan Medicine.

Likewise, the broader Michigan Medicine workforce brings a high level of knowledge and passion to work every day. That passion is there at the pinnacle of their careers — maybe while developing a new technology or launching a start-up company — and it’s also there in more challenging situations, such as struggling in the morass of a difficult health care decision, advocating with a payor for just reimbursement, responding to a regulatory agency, or confronting the demands and threats of litigation. No matter what the situation, our office is ready to provide assistance and advice.