Health Leads: A New Name, But An Unchanged Mission To Care For Low-Income Families

Rebecca Onie, founder of Health Leads, formerly Project HEALTH

Rebecca Onie came up with the name Project HEALTH in 1996, as a Harvard undergrad, while she was riding the #1 bus from what was then Boston City Hospital (now Boston Medical Center) back to Cambridge.

Since then, Onie, 33, has built a phenomenally successful non-profit that helps low-income families get a broad range of services (food, heat, transportation, etc) during their doctor visits, giving them a greater chance of actually improving their health. (Onie will often say: What good is prescribing an antibiotic for a child if there’s no food in the fridge?) In clinics where the program operates, physicians can “prescribe” food, housing, health insurance, job training, fuel assistance, or other resources for their patients as routinely as they do medication. Located in waiting rooms and staffed by college volunteers, the volunteers “fill” these prescriptions by connecting patients with the basic resources they need.

Clearly, the world has noticed. Onie won a MacArthur genius grant last year and was featured on “O” Magazine’s 2010 Power List for “changing the world for the better.” At TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People Gala last year, First Lady Michelle Obama said of Project HEALTH: “This is exactly the kind of social innovation and entrepreneurship we should be encouraging all across this country.”

In 2010 alone, the organization trained and mobilized 660 college volunteers, who connected nearly 6,000 low-income patients and their families to the resources they needed to get healthy – 44% more patients than in the prior year. They now staff health clinics in Boston, New York, Baltimore, Washington D.C, Providence and Chicago.

In a letter sent out this week announcing Project HEALTH’s new name: Health Leads, Onie writes:

“With all this progress and these honors, we realized: we’re not just a Project anymore. We are beginning to change the way patient care is delivered in America. And so, recognizing our potential to be a leading problem-solver in health care, we have decided to change our name: Project HEALTH is now Health Leads.”

She says they chose the new name for three reasons:

It affirms our core belief that HEALTH, not disease, should LEAD the design of America’s health care system. Health comes first.

It reflects the critical work our volunteers do every day: provide LEADS to the community resources that will help patients get HEALTHIER.

It embodies our commitment to creating the next generation of HEALTH LEADERS: our volunteers and alumni who, having seen the problems and solutions first-hand, will have the conviction and ability to truly transform health care in America.

For all of the progress of these past two years, we know that the work of tackling the link between poverty and health has just begun. We are deeply grateful to all of you who have supported and advanced our work to this point. Now, as we take on the banner of Health Leads, we invite you to renew your commitment, joining us as we grow our simple, economical, and effective approach to improving health and decreasing costs.

To learn more about the new developments and progress at Health Leads, check out the new web site here.

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