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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: Continue reading