Release Date: 
Monday, October 14, 2019

HFC paralegal instructor’s law degree works hand-in-hand with MPH

L. Alisyn Crawford

L. Alisyn Crawford knew she wanted to help people and originally planned on becoming a psychologist.

However, she saw firsthand what a hectic and frustrating process it was to help a family member obtain social security disability benefits.

“He was eventually approved, and that was gratifying for me. But it was also frustrating. If he didn’t have someone advocating for him, he wouldn’t have gotten his benefits. So I decided to get into the legal arena to change the process,” said Crawford, who lives with her husband and two daughters, ages 11 and 3, in Okemos.

Crawford – currently a Medicaid Long Term Care Policy Specialist for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in Lansing and adjunct instructor in HFC’s paralegal program – went to law school.

First, she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Then she earned her juris doctor from Northeastern University in Boston, and her master of public health at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. Crawford also completed a business class and a writing class at Henry Ford College early in her college career.

Improving the health care system

“Public health is definitely related to psychology and sociology, and it made the most sense for me to combine the study of public health with my law degree,” she explained. “I enjoy learning why people do the things they do, or why certain outcomes typically occur, based on what we call 'social determinants' of health (economic and social factors that influence individual and group differences in health). Having an MPH has been valuable when it comes to addressing legal matters and policy writing.”

Crawford has been with the MDHHS for nearly three years. She is the sole resource person for long-term care policy that relates to a state Medicaid tool called Level of Care Determination. This tool is used to assess eligibility for long-term care services in a nursing facility and in community-based programs.

Crawford's job is closely connected to the reasons she went to law school. The policies she writes and manages can be the determining factor in whether a person has access to long-term care services.

“I am very aware of the impact my work can have on Medicaid beneficiaries. I work very hard to ensure the work I do has a more involved approach than you might expect to see. I work to identify gaps in the system and then find ways to improve the process. Policies must make sense for the end-users. This is why collaborating with all stakeholders in policy decision-making is most important.”

The value of education

After learning that her grandmother has a doctorate in higher education and her mother is a physician, you might think Crawford’s educational and career path were pretty straightforward. But they weren't.

As a high school sophomore, Crawford dropped out of Crockett Technical and Vocational High School in Detroit. She was dealing with bullying and an atmosphere that was not conducive to learning. At first, work didn't mean much to her. She worked full-time at several jobs, and her shortest stop was a 3-hour stint at McDonald’s. By the time she was 19, she had been hired and fired from 15 jobs.

“I treated those jobs with a nonchalant attitude,” she said. “One day, I sort of woke up. I realized, ‘I have no diploma. I have no formal education beyond 10th grade. I have no prospects. I need to get a GED.’”

Her grandmother encouraged her to take a writing course at a local college. Crawford did very well, which motivated her to get her GED in 2002. She scored well in reading comprehension and social studies, so she took some college courses. Then she decided to go on to earn her first college degree.

“It was important for me to earn an education so I could have some job security. I was four months pregnant when I moved to Boston to pursue my degree,” said Crawford. “Education is very important. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

Teaching at HFC

Crawford taught the Legal Writing class in the Paralegal program at HFC at night in 2017.

“I’m very big on community involvement and service,” she said of her teaching. “When I teach, I typically have initiatives centered on education and trainings focused on self-advocacy. Self-advocacy needs to be centered on health promotion and benefits.”

Crawford has an appreciation for the struggles students face, particularly those who have dropped out of high school and earned their GED.

“I was careful to approach students in a way that was not demeaning or confrontational, no matter what their background or experiences,” she said. “That approach enabled me to assist them in their growth throughout the semester.”