Friday, August 21, 2009

O'Connell named J.H. Kanter Prize Laureate


James J. O'Connell, MD, of the MGH Department of Medicine, is known throughout Boston as a physician with a heart for the homeless. For nearly 25 years, he has devoted his life's work to caring for this often ignored population as co-founder and president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP), the nation's largest and most comprehensive health care program for the homeless. In recognition of his work, O'Connell has been named the inaugural recipient of the J.H. Kanter Prize for his "tireless efforts and creativity" in developing ways to eliminate health disparities and improve health care for homeless persons in Boston.


In addition to leading the BHCHP, O'Connell provides medical care directly to the homeless. It is not uncommon for him to crawl under bridges into makeshift shanties to care for isolated individuals, hand out sandwiches in all types of weather to the hungry living on the streets or build meaningful friendships with those surviving only with whatever they can find or are given.

O'Connell was the first physician to serve at the BHCHP. Through his leadership, there are now 16 physicians in the program, which delivers care at more than 80 sites, including the MGH Medical Walk-in Unit and the Barbara McInnis House, a 104-bed medical respite unit for the homeless.

Working with a team from the BHCHP and the MGH Laboratory of Computer Science, O'Connell designed and implemented a medical records system for the care of homeless patients. He also has authored a number of books on caring for the homeless.

The J.H. Kanter Prize is sponsored by the Health Legacy Partnership, a public-private partnership with the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The award is named for Joseph H. Kanter, a pioneering advocate for health care reform. Each state medical society nominated two candidates for the $100,000 award.

"I am humbled by this award," O’Connell says, "and I accept it on behalf of all of the providers and staff at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program who work tirelessly every day to improve the lives of homeless persons throughout Boston."

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