By Patricia Gilliam Clifford
Renee Chenault Fattah has come full circle.
Throughout a diverse and distinguished career as a co-anchor of NBC-10’s newscasts, in the legal profession, and as a filmmaker, Chenault Fattah has been a force in our community.
She now returns to her legal roots as the director of pro bono action for Community Impacts in Pennsylvania for the SeniorLAW Center.
The SeniorLAW Center is an organization that partners with AARP and the Legal Counsel for the Elderly in Washington, D.C. to leverage pro bono partnerships with law firms, law schools, corporate counsel and the legal community overall to expand legal protections and fight for better policies for senior citizens.
She was inspired to take on this work after finishing her first documentary, entitled “In Our Right Mind: Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias’ Impact on Communities of Color,” which showcased the journey through dementia that her family took with Chenault Fattah’s 93-year-old aunt, she said.
The film’s mission is to tell the story of Alzheimer’s and dementia’s impact in communities of color, through the voices of those experiencing the disease, the stories of those working to stop it, and why it matters to all of us. As part of the project, Chenault Fattah turned her website into a resource for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
“As the director of pro bono action for Community Impact in PA, I have an opportunity to work with their passionate team of lawyers and advocates who are committed to ensuring [that] programs are in place to assist seniors in exercising their rights, help secure benefits to which they are entitled and work to protect them from abuse and exploitation,” she said. Although Chenault Fattah is not one to shy away from challenges, I asked her about the impact of assuming this challenging new role with such tremendous responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The elderly are more likely to be taken advantage of from scammers, bad landlords, and other ‘ne’er do wells’ even in the best of times. During a pandemic like COVID-19, they need even more protection than usual, Chenault Fattah said.
“The issues that arise because of this virus crisis are evident — emergency protection from abuse orders, emergency custody for grandparents seeking custody for grandkids, scams and frauds perpetrated by COVID-19, urgent health care decision making, potential illegal lockouts. There’s an immediacy to so many challenges and issues facing seniors,” she said. “Our organization normally addresses issues such as housing rights, elder abuse, and financial education. As a result of COVID-19 and people being told that they must stay in their homes, all forms of elder abuse and family violence has the potential to increase. This [abuse and violence] escalates when people are forced to be closely confined under stressful conditions. These issues may not be as prevalent now, but these are the kinds of serious issues that we can see coming down the pike. I think it only stands to reason that the longer this continues with extreme levels of uncertainty, stress and courts closed, an increase of elder abuse and family violence is likely,”
The SeniorLAW Center is starting a COVID-19 Fund to enable it to continue its work. They will also be sending out information on issues such as caregiving and home ownership, Chenault Fattah said.
While the work has been harder of late, Chenault Fattah praises her team for helping her stay on top of it.
“Yes it’s a lot, but I am grateful and what has helped me get through are the people at the SeniorLAW Center,” she said. “It is just a wonderful team. So, when you like the people you’re working with and they are supportive and passionate about what they do it makes a huge difference. And then, there’s the feeling that you are representing and seeking justice for older people which has always been important. But with what’s going on right now and the fact that this virus targets seniors, it makes me feel like I am where I should be at this moment in time.”
Chenault Fattah earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Johns Hopkins University and began her career in law, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, working at Hughes Hubbard & Reed in New York City, and clerking for the late Judge Damon Keith on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Renee also earned a masters of arts in journalism from the University of Missouri. In 2009, she was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame.
An active member of the community, Chenault Fattah speaks before university audiences, church congregations and civic organizations about issues concerning health disparities, law, education and ethics. She currently serves as a trustee of Johns Hopkins University and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
She is also on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity and is a member of the advisory council to The Hastings Center, a bioethics research center.
For information or to make donations visit: www.seniorlawcenter.org or call 215-988-1242or1.877.727.7529 (statewide) All staff are working and accessible remotely.
For more information about “In Our Right Mind: Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias’ Impact on Communities of Color” visit: www.reneechenaultfattah.com.