Doctor’s Lifelong Career Treating Homeless Patients Inspires a Series of Compassionate Portraits

posted: 04/07/17
by: Blythe Copeland
Dr. Jim O'Connell
CBS News

Dr. Jim O'Connell has spent more than three decades making his rounds on the city streets of Boston to treat hundreds of patients who share one common factor: They're all homeless. As the head of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless program, O'Connell and his team see 700 patients on a regular basis -- O'Connell himself visits about 20 every day.

CBS News reports that O'Connell and his colleagues -- including psychologists and social workers -- search out people who need their help "in parks, under bridges, and on the outskirts of town," keeping track of where individual patients sleep and checking in with friends when they can't find someone -- which is a personalized form of medicine that's unique in a major urban area. "I feel like I'm a country doctor in the middle of the city, you know?" O'Connell told CBS.

O'Connell began photographing his patients after one woman asked him to take a portrait of her that she could leave for her two daughters after her death. "The next day I came in, there were 22 people in the building who asked me to please take their portraits," he says. "They want to be seen."

Many of the portraits are displayed at McInnis House, the program's main treatment center. "When people are admitted now, if their photo isn't here they'll say, 'Hey, where is my portrait?'" O'Connell said. "So we have to constantly rearrange them."

See more of O'Connell's portraits -- and photographer John Baynard's images of O'Connell treating his patients -- on CBSNews.com.