JP Observer: Health policy advocate turns focus to mental illness

Attorney Steve Rosenfeld has had an incredible career spanning decades practicing law; working at the top levels of the executive branch of Massachusetts government; creating and working with ground-breaking nonprofit legal efforts and teaching law.

The Massachusetts native and Harvard Law School graduate was chief legal counsel to Gov. Michael Dukakis and his chief of staff for eight years. After that, he worked for Attorney General Frank Bellotti as chief of the Government Bureau for four.

Since the 1990s, health care justice has been a strong theme in his work. His law practice, Rosenfeld, Rafik & Sullivan, specializes in health access and health benefits law. He has litigated in all federal and state courts with jurisdiction in Massachusetts.

In 1995, he founded Health Law Advocates (HLA), where he is the volunteer legal director now. HLA, whose annual fundraisers draw nearly 1,000 people, is a public interest law firm that works to get access to health care for vulnerable residents of the state. Parity for mental health insurance coverage is just one of the causes where he has been successful.

He is or has been on the boards of many other non-profit organizations, including Health Care for All, a prime mover in the creation of sweeping health insurance reform in Massachusetts in 2006.

Because of his long history of commitment to public issues, it was somewhat shocking to hear the 12-year Jamaica Plain resident say that he is “evidence that one can find one’s calling at age 72.”

Most people would think he found it long ago. But perhaps his lifelong commitment to health care justice was the perfect prelude.

Rosenfeld explained in an interview last week that his life has “risen to a new level of commitment and satisfaction,” since he started working as a volunteer with the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). He has three sons with mental illness, he said.

“One day, about three-and-half years ago, I faced the reality that I was functionally illiterate about mental illness, that I needed to know more,” he said. “I talked to professionals and families, and that led me to NAMI.” Now he is on the board of NAMI Massachusetts.

Rosenfeld and his wife, Margot Botsford, associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, live in a modest second floor condo in Hyde Square.

The Family-to-Family program, with a two-and-a-half-hour session every week for 12 weeks, helped him and his wife learn about the process of recognizing, coping with and accepting mental illness in the family, he said.

Rosenfeld said the experience was so meaningful to him, he then trained to teach the course, which has been around for 20 years and has had more than 300,000 participants. Family-to-Family offers education and support with a set curriculum.

“People share amazing stories,” said Rosenfeld, who recently taught the course. “Struggling with a family member with mental illness is so isolating. You learn you are not alone.”

For more information about NAMI and Family-to-Family, people may contact him at [email protected] or see

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