Prescription for Success

From social worker to health care lawyer, Elise Dunitz Brennan is all about healing        

Published in 2008 Oklahoma Super Lawyers — November 2008

On paper Elise Dunitz Brennan's career path looks like a master plan she must have laid out in advance. She earned a master's degree in social work in the late 1970s and held jobs everywhere from an early HMO—the second ever established in the country—to a medical school, kidney foundation and suicide hotline. After attending law school, she landed at Doerner, Saunders, Daniel & Anderson in Tulsa, and she's spent the bulk of her roughly 25 years there specializing in health care law.

This neat line from point A to point B, however, wasn't quite as pre-meditated as you might imagine. "When I graduated from law school in 1983, I didn't know there was such a thing as a health care lawyer," says Brennan, who became a partner in 1990. She spent the first four or five years of her career following a passion for litigation, but then a colleague, who knew about her background, pulled her in on a physician-credentialing case. From there, she began taking on more medical work and slowly morphed into a health care attorney.

Today she's the chair of her firm's health care practice committee, as well as a member of the executive committee, and works with clients ranging from nursing homes and hospitals to physician groups and managed care companies. While her practice includes general business work, such as setting up new corporations or working on acquisitions or sales, she specializes in helping her clients wade through the ever-changing government rules in the highly regulated health care field.

Brennan says her former life as a social worker gives her insight into clients' everyday realities. "I know how a hospital works," she says. "I understand a little bit how a medical school works. I understand how an outpatient clinic works, because I have been there and worked in those areas."

For one project, she helped a nursing home navigate regulatory hurdles so it could build an Alzheimer's facility—long before those specialty care centers were common. The finished facility included a number of unique features such as an absence of mirrors so patients wouldn't be startled by what seemed like the reflection of a stranger.

Practicing in an industry that is constantly affected by political debate requires Brennan to be up-to-date with all the latest health care news—a considerable feat. "There is so much happening that it is very hard to keep up," Brennan says. "I get tons of information every day on changes in the law." She's currently keeping an eye on a new law going through Congress that would try to prohibit binding arbitration in nursing homes. It was of special interest because Brennan's firm just won a case to allow binding arbitration provisions in nursing home residency agreements.

To remain aware of these industry-changing developments, Brennan keeps strong ties in the professional community. She sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Health and Life Sciences Law, and she's a past board member of the American Health Lawyers Association. Her résumé also includes a stint as the president of the Oklahoma Health Lawyers Association.

It's a lot to keep up with in a practice where the rules are always changing, but Brennan has ended up right where she was supposed to be: At the front lines of the business and policy side of health care that always fascinated her as a social worker.

 

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