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  • Awarded: 2011
  • Issue Areas: Health · Health Delivery
  • Countries Served: USA
  • Web:
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    About the Organization

    When patients and their families seek medical care, they often face several critical challenges in their lives at the same time – they may have little food, no job, and they may struggle to keep up with bills for gas and electricity. Not surprisingly, these challenges affect their health.

    Health Leads envisions a healthcare system that addresses all patients’ basic resource needs as a standard part of quality care. In the clinics where they operate, physicians and other providers can prescribe food, heat, and other basic resources their patients need to be healthy, alongside prescriptions for medication.

    Patients then take those prescriptions to a Health Leads Desk in the clinic waiting room, where college student Advocates work side-by-side with the patients to access community resources and public benefits.

    This year, Health Leads will train and deploy nearly 1,000 college student Advocates to connect over 14,500 low-income patients and their families to the resources they need to be healthy. Health Leads works in adult, pediatric, and prenatal clinics across the country.

    Even in the shadows of the world’s most prestigious medical centers, health and healing are stymied by hunger, unsafe housing, and other poverty-related issues.

    Health Leads bridges the gap between medicine and social work, equipping clinics with volunteers and family help desks.

    Rebecca Onie founded Health Leads after seeing asthma was aggravated by unsafe housing, pneumonia by lack of heat, and what happened when a patient couldn’t afford both rent and medicine

    Health Leads has served more than 23,000 patients, the majority obtaining at least one service within 90 days.

    Ambition for Change

    Doctors concern themselves with the social as well as medical needs of their patients, and health care systems address patients’ basic resource needs as a standard part of quality care.

    Path to Scale

    Demonstration and Replication
    Hospitals and clinics will invest in advocates and family health desks upon realizing cost savings from improved health outcomes and reduction in recurrent illness and readmissions.

    As a college student working in a legal services office, Rebecca Onie saw up close how a child’s asthma was aggravated by unsafe housing, a case of pneumonia aggravated by lack of heat in the home, and other illnesses lingered because the patient couldn’t afford both rent and medicine. She founded Project Health (now Health Leads) with Dr. Barry Zuckerman, chair of pediatrics at Boston Medical Center. Health Leads bridges the gap between medicine and social work, equipping clinics with volunteers and family help desks, so that primary care doctors can prescribe not only medicines, but also services such as food, fuel, and housing assistance, and patients can get help to support their healing and long term health. By 2011, Health Leads had served more than 6,000 clients in major US cities including Boston and Baltimore, and trained more than 750 health care advocates – many of whom went on to study for careers in healthcare and social work, committed to furthering the Health Leads model.

    Impact & Accomplishments

    • Served more than 23,000 patients, including 11,000 patients and families served in 2013.
    • Recruited and trained nearly 1,000 college student volunteers to provide resources and services in 20 clinics across 6 cities. 90 percent of volunteers go on to work or study in the fields of health or poverty elimination.
    • 4,000 alumni working as healthcare providers, clinical researchers, community health workers, policy experts, pharmaceutical experts, and hospital administrators.
    • 57 percent of patients obtain at least one service within 90 days.


    Alexandra QuinnChief Executive Officer, Health Leads
    Kelly HallManaging Principal of Transformative Impact, Health Leads
    Ken HimmelmanManaging Principal, Health Leads
    Rebecca OnieCo-Founder & CEO Emerita, Health Leads
    Sarah DiTroiaChief Operating Officer, Health Leads

    Related Content

    Rebecca Onie - Health Leads, June 28, 2016
    Today, the US healthcare sector is no longer debating the connection between patients’ unmet social needs—like shelter, heat, employment, and food—and poor health. It’s widely recognized that just 10 percent…

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