Dr. Jim O’Connell – or Dr. Jim to his patients — is the President of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, the U.S.’s first medical respite program for homeless individuals, and is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
For over 30 years, he has been caring for Boston’s homeless population – but that was not his original plan. At first, Dr. Jim intended to obtain a prestigious oncology fellowship when Boston and over a dozen other cities were given a grant to improve their health care system for homeless individuals. He was offered a one-year position as the founding doctor of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.
In 1985, he began full-time clinical work with homeless individuals as the founding physician of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP), which now services over 11,000 homeless individuals annually in the two hospital-based clinics and in more than 45 shelters and outreach centers in Boston. BHCHP now has acute, sub-acute, pre-and post-operative, and palliative and end-of-life care in the 104-bed Barbara McInnis House.
Dr. Jim champions providing healthcare dignity to people experiencing homelessness – he designed and implemented the nation’s first computerized medical record for a homeless program in collaboration with the MGH Laboratory of Computer Science and is the editor of the widely used manual, The Health Care of Homeless Persons: A Manual of Communicable Diseases and Common Problems in Shelters and on the Streets. His first book, Stories from the Shadows: Reflections of a Street Doctor, was published in 2015 and featured on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
He earned his medical degree from Harvard University in 1982 and completed his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. He has 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. He has received numerous awards, including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award in 2012 and The Trustees’ Medal at the bicentennial celebration of Massachusetts General Hospital in 2011.