Friday, November 30, 2012

Bonner Award honors local psychologist



Presentation attendees, including Bonner's daughters, Dale and Carol, at far right, with award-winner Alegría, left center, holding a blue-wrapped gift.

Described as a “soft-spoken trailblazer” and “a quiet rebel,” the late MGH psychiatrist Frances J. Bonner, MD, was the hospital’s first African American female resident and faculty member. On Nov. 15, the MGH Department of Psychiatry Diversity Center presented the second annual Frances J. Bonner, MD, Award to Margarita Alegría, PhD, director of the Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research at the Cambridge Health Alliance, a renowned psychologist whose work focuses on the improvement of delivery of mental health care services for diverse racial and ethnic populations. Alegría is a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and currently serves as principal or co-principal investigator of three studies funded by the National Institutes of Health.

This year, 17 nominations were submitted for the award, which was established to recognize an individual who exemplifies the work and spirit of Bonner and has made significant contributions to the field of mental health or the care of minority communities. Carol Wool, MD, MGH psychiatrist and chair of the award subcommittee, said the group narrowed the pool to 10 individuals and then selected Alegría from among three finalists.

“This award means so much to me,” Alegría told a packed Ether Dome as she began her lecture, “Engineering Mental Health Services for a Changing America,” prior to the award presentation. During her talk, Alegría presented statistics about the changing face of the United States, discussed challenges immigrants face in accessing health care and identified interventions to better respond to their needs. Particularly promising interventions she described include enhancing the role and responsibilities of community health workers, encouraging patients to be more active in their care, training both patients and providers to be more receptive to feedback, and treatment sessions conducted via telephone to reduce barriers to care.

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