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Three Boston groups recognized with mayoral prize for primary care advances

To a gathering of local community health leaders this week, Mayor Thomas M. Menino confessed a boyhood dream of becoming executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. He wanted to make a difference in peoples’ lives, he said.

Instead, he helped shape that office’s work during two decades as mayor. His legacy will continue in part through the Mayoral Prize for Innovations in Primary Care, an annual award that his office helped create to recognize organizations testing new ways to meet the health care needs of the city.

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The 2013 awards ceremony on Tuesday recognized projects at Boston Medical Center, Healthworks Community Fitness, and Bowdoin Street Health Center, which each received a $1,000 prize.

Dr. Paula Johnson, chairwoman of the public health commission board, said there is not enough attention paid to the role of public health in primary care.

“We tend to focus much more squarely only on the traditional health care delivery system. And it’s critically important, but it really falls short of what we need to do to improve the health of communities today and for the future,” she said.

Prompted by conversations in 2008 between Menino and members of the Mayor’s Task Force on Improving Primary Care in Boston, the awards were established to promote the spread of new ideas throughout the city.

This year, Boston Medical Center’s office-based opioid treatment program was recognized for using nurse managers to coordinate care for people being treated for substance abuse, helping 68 percent of retained patients to successfully complete the program.

Healthworks Community Fitness, a non-profit with two locations in Dorchester that serve more than 1,500 low-income women and children living in homeless shelters, was honored for partnering with local health care institutions to offer “prescriptions” for free exercise classes as part of patient care. The classes were aimed at preventing and treating chronic disease and empowering women to improve their family’s health.

Bowdoin Street Health Center’s 10-week “workplace wellness challenge” also was recognized. The center collaborated with the Boston Moves for Health campaign to create custom health improvement plans for 64 participants, about 89 percent of the center’s staff.

“Innovation is not limited to biomedical technologies,” said Dr. Julio Frenk, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, in his keynote speech. It “must be promoted in other realms. ... Whether technology, policy or service delivery, innovation on all fronts will drive the renewal of primary health care in the 21st century.”

Danial Bernard is a research assistant for Harvard Medical School and a freelance writer. He can be reached at daniel.armand.bernard@gmail.com.

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