Health Leads


Health Leads Gets $4.5M To ‘Prescribe’ Food, Utilities To Low-Income Patients

The Boston nonprofit Health Leads, whose successful programs have doctors “prescribing” basic resources like food, transportation, housing and heating assistance to low-income patients to boost their overall health, announced it’s been awarded $4.5 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to expand their programs and “to demonstrate the economic value of our model.”

Here’s the news release:

“We are pleased to provide this renewed funding for Health Leads, whose innovative model helps to eliminate the social barriers that stand in the way of people improving their health,” says Wendy Yallowitz, program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Vulnerable Populations portfolio.  “We look forward to working with Health Leads as it continues to build the infrastructure needed to scale its model and help change the way health care is delivered so that patients’ unmet resource needs are addressed as a standard part of medical care.”

The largest grant in our 16-year history, the funds will support the growth and evaluation of our program to build a case that compels the US health care system to invest financially in connecting patients with the basic resources they need to be healthy.  This grant also allows Health Leads to make the key capacity investments in technology and talent necessary to support this work.

“Health Leads envisions a health care system that connects low-income patients to resources such as food and utilities as routinely as it makes any other subspecialty referral,” says CEO and Co-Founder Rebecca Onie.  “Health Leads is uniquely positioned through our partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to quantify the impact of a model that systematically addresses the intersection of poverty and health by making these connections.” Continue reading

NYT On Health Leads: ‘One Of The Most Impressive Organizations’ Of Its Kind

Rebecca Onie co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit, Health Leads

We’ve written about the health care social entrepreneur and MacArthur genius-grant recipient Rebecca Onie quite a bit here at CommonHealth.

Her phenomenally successful Boston-based non-profit, Health Leads (formerly Project Health) deploys college-student volunteers to health clinics to help low-income families get the essential, but non-medical, services they may need. In these clinics, physicians “prescribe” food, housing, health insurance, job training, fuel assistance, and other resources just as they do medication, and the volunteers “fill” the prescription by doing the leg work to make it happen. Like a Google search brought to life, as Onie describes it.

Still, there’s nothing like being featured in a long, glowing story in The New York Times to make your day.

David Bornstein, writing for the column “FIxes,” calls Health Leads “one of the most impressive organizations in the country” developing an effective plan to deal with the social, economic and structural causes of illness, as well as illness itself. He writes about their successful growth here:

In 2010, the organization reported that in 57 percent of cases its volunteers secured a needed resource within 90 days. This year, Health Leads will serve 9,300 patients and families — not a huge number given the scope of the problem it seeks to address — but the approach is gaining momentum.

One indication is that, where Health Leads works, doctors are changing their behavior. In the Children’s National Medical Center, in Washington, for example, over the past year, there has been a 300 percent increase in doctors “prescribing” Health Leads through the hospital’s Electronic Medical Record. The resources they request for patients include things like exercise or summer meal programs for children or subsidized child care for mothers, so they can find work and afford better food and housing. Continue reading