Dr. James J. O'Connell, a native of Newport and a graduate of Harvard Medical School, has truly made a difference in the world of medicine. Since 1985, when he helped found the Boston Health Care For The Homeless Program, he has worked tirelessly to bring medical care and dignity to the less fortunate. Today he is recognized as one of the nation's foremost authorities on homelessness and healthcare. His efforts and his commitment to the homeless have been the subject of numerous media stories and accolades.
Dr. O'Connell was born in 1948, the second child of James J. and Anne Hayes O'Connell of Newport. In 1966, he graduated from De La Salle Academy, where he was a star basketball player. He continued his education at the University of Notre Dame, becoming salutatorian for the Class of 1970. He then studied at England's prestigious Cambridge University, earning a master's degree in 1972.
Following his graduation from Cambridge, O'Connell taught high school and coached basketball in Hawaii briefly before deciding to pursue a medical career. In 1978, he was accepted at Harvard Medical School and began what has been a decades-long love affair with the City of Boston and its people. During his internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, he began to take particular interest in the plight of the homeless and their need for access to proper medical care. This compassionate urge led him to become the founding physician of the Boston Health Care For The Homeless Program, (BHCHP) where, for the past quarter-century, he has undertaken full-time clinical work on behalf of homeless individuals. In 1996, he became president of this amazing organization, which now serves over 11,000 homeless persons each year through three hospital-based clinics and over 80 shelters and other outreach sites in Greater Boston.
Dr. O'Connell also founded the Barbara McInnis House in 1993. This free-standing medical facility has grown to 104 beds and provides a wide variety of services, including acute, sub-acute, rehabilitative, recuperative and dignified end-of-life care. Dr. O'Connell also designed and implemented the nation's first computerized medical records system for a homeless program.
O'Connell has lectured extensively, written numerous essays on homelessness and healthcare, and edited The Health Care of Homeless Persons: A Manual of Communicable Diseases and Common Problems in Shelters and on the Streets--one of the most widely used texts in its field.
“Jimmy,” as he is known to his family, has never forgotten his Rhode Island roots and still visits the Ocean State to enjoy his small summer cottage in Middletown.
--Robert P. Sylvia
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