COLUMBIA — Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder and Boston physician Jim O’Connell, the subject of Kidder’s new book, will keynote the Association of Health Care Journalists’ annual conference on March 9 in St. Louis.
Kidder chronicled the life of global health pioneer Paul Farmer in the 2003 bestseller “Mountains Beyond Mountains.” He won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in 1982 for “The Soul of a New Machine.” He has written more than 10 books.
O’Connell is the president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Since 1985, he has been providing clinical care full time to homeless people and has innovated new approaches to serving the most severely underserved population in the U.S.
Kidder’s new book, “Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O’Connell’s Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People,” takes a similar approach to “Mountains.” In the book, set to be released on Jan. 17, Kidder follows O’Connell and the street team for “the Program” as they provide care and support to Boston’s most vulnerable citizens.The book was excerpted Sunday in the New York Times magazine.
The intimacy of Kidder’s writing reflects the five years he spent with O’Connell and the team as they deliver on a longtime commitment to relieve the suffering of human beings whose lives are “a symptom of the systemic failures that feed American poverty — racism, childhood trauma, violence…”.
The clinical tasks are challenging, Kidder writes: “How do you treat H.I.V. in a person who has no place to live? How do you treat diabetes in patients who can’t even find their next meals? How do you treat physical illnesses in patients whose activities of daily living are completely determined by the consumption of alcohol or the search for narcotics? At medical school, questions like that hadn’t come up.”
Kidder will read from the book, and both he and O’Connell will take part in a discussion and Q&A with AHCJ members. The event will be followed by a book signing as part of a Thursday evening reception that kicks off the 3.5-day conference at the Union Station Hotel. The conference offers members two field trips and more than 60 sessions with scores of experts on topics like the future of vaccines; making journalism more accessible to people with disabilities; health care legislation in the new Congress; and new frontiers in pain management.