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Dr. Jim O'Connell and Lessons Learned Caring for the Homeless

October 10, 2011

Oct. 20 guest lecture, free and open to the public

Thursday, October 20 2011, 7:00pm – 8 pm Foyer, College Hall
Wine and cheese from 6:30 pm – 7 pm

With the economic recession scarcely improved, poverty growing, and more people losing jobs, health insurance, even their homes, the number of homeless people on our streets has grown as well. What’s the best way to deliver health care to this vulnerable population?

One innovator in this field is Jim O’Connell, MD, President of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP). Come hear him speak about his innovative, non-traditional program for caring for the homeless, improving the quality of health care they receive and, at the same time, saving costs.

Dr. O'Connell helped found BHCHP in 1985, after completing his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. He juggles his active role as president with the demands of a busy clinical practice, spending much of his time caring for Boston's homeless population on the street and in one of the program's hospital-based clinics. Nationally recognized as one of the preeminent experts on homelessness and healthcare, Dr. O'Connell lectures extensively and publishes widely.

The core group served by BHCHP is the homeless adults and families who stay in the emergency shelter system, eat in soup kitchens or visit drop-in centers. BHCHP also cares for formerly homeless people who have progressed into transitional, permanent and supportive housing programs. In addition, BHCHP targets unsheltered homeless people who sleep on the streets or in makeshift shelters under the bridges, down the alleys and behind the buildings of the city.

In addition, BHCHP staffs, manages and delivers comprehensive health care at two hospital-based clinics on the campuses of Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Medical Center. BHCHP also staffs, manages and operates the Barbara McInnis House at Jean Yawkey Place, a 104-bed medical respite facility for homeless adults with complex conditions like cancer, heart disease, pneumonia and diabetes who are too sick to live in a shelter or on the street. It also works with the homeless workers who care for racehorses on the "backstretch" of Suffolk Downs Racetrack in East Boston.

Annually, BHCHP serves over 11,000 patients in over 90,000 outpatient medical, oral health and behavioral health encounters. Vulnerable patients are kept alive and get help managing chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Shelter partners are able to offer BHCHP’s medical expertise while focusing on their core mission, thus avoiding the waste involved by duplicating services. Boston’s many hospitals depend on BHCHP as an alternative to the emergency room as well as a safe discharge location for medically vulnerable patients.

“We are looking forward to hearing from Dr. O’Connell, learning from his experience and insights,” said Mary Ann Hart, Program Director, Health Administration at Regis College. “It’s hard to imagine a body of work more in keeping with Regis’ commitment of service to ‘the dear neighbor.’”

Working with the MGH Laboratory of Computer Science, Dr. O’Connell designed and implemented the nation’s first computerized medical record for a homeless program in 1995.

From 1989 until 1996, Dr. O'Connell served as the National Program Director of the Homeless Families Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Dr. O’Connell is the editor of the Manual of Communicable Diseases in Shelters - one of the most widely used texts on homeless healthcare. Dr. O'Connell earned his medical degree at Harvard Medical School and a master's degree in philosophy and theology from Cambridge University in England. He graduated Maxima Cum Laude from the University of Notre Dame.

Regis College is a Catholic co-educational community that prepares undergraduate, graduate and continuing education students for engagement and service in a changing world. In the School of Liberal Arts, Education and Social Sciences and the School of Nursing, Sciences and Health Professions, approximately 1,600 students are enrolled in 17 undergraduate majors; 30 minors; 10 interdisciplinary pathways toward professional success; and master’s degree programs in education, communication, health administration, regulatory and clinical research management, nursing, and a doctoral program in nursing practice. U.S. News and World Report ranks Regis in the top tier of universities with master’s programs in the North. The College is listed by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) among benchmarking colleges for the quality of educational experience. With a strategic graduate focus on health care, Regis College was recently named a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education by the National League of Nursing. The College also provides accredited pre-school and kindergarten programs and a Life Long Learning Program (LLARC) for retired seniors.

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