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We’re thrilled to announce that we will present Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) Founder and President James (Jim) O’Connell, MD with the 2012 Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism on Friday, November 2.

“Jim is a tireless champion for dignified, compassionate, and skilled health care for some of our most vulnerable neighbors,” says Robert Lawrence, MD, Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Chair of the Schweitzer Prize Selection Committee, and a Schweitzer Prize laureate himself. “We are honored to present him with this prize in recognition of his advocacy for—and direct service to—people experiencing homelessness.”

O’Connell is the founder and president of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP), and has provided care for medically vulnerable street dwellers for more than 27 years. O’Connell and BHCHP have embraced the Housing First approach to ending homelessness, and as a result, O’Connell’s street practice has evolved into something resembling that of an old-fashioned country doctor: he makes regular house calls to previously street-dwelling patients, many who have a roof over the heads for the first time in decades.

“You can’t wait for them to come to you, you have to go to them,” said O’Connell, who teams up with a psychiatrist for the visits. “A lot of our patients do the same thing they did on the streets, they isolate themselves. You have to check in on them regularly.”

O’Connell is helping England’s National Health Service figure out how to better deliver care—and, eventually, housing—to its street patients, and regularly travels to Los Angeles to work on the same issues, focusing on Skid Row. A tool based on his research into the risk factors that lead to street dwellers dying prematurely is used in 65 U.S. cities and towns to prioritize who gets housed first.

“Jim has touched the lives of his patients, the lives of our Schweitzer Fellows, and the lives of the countless other health professionals he has inspired to make a difference, to adopt the model of care Jim developed in Boston, and to extend the reach of the example he has set,” Lawrence says. “We are thrilled that he will be joining the group of humanitarians who have previously received this prize.”

O’Connell will be honored with the Schweitzer Prize at a reception on Friday, November 2 at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, MA. He will also speak at the Schweitzer Leadership Conference the following day in the same location. Conference registration is open through Oct. 19 via www.schweitzerfellowship.org/conference.

Previous Schweitzer Prize honorees include presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, Marian Wright Edelman, and C. Everett Koop. The prize recognizes an individual whose life example has significantly improved the health of people in the United States and/or abroad, and whose commitment to service influences and inspires others.

Click here to register for the Schweitzer Leadership Conference. 

Click here to learn more about the Schweitzer Prize.

Click here to learn more about Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.

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