Partners HealthCare, Blue Cross Blue Shield establish Thomas M. Menino Challenge Grant

Dr. Julio Frenk shares vision for reinventing primary care in the era of health reform

Five years after spearheading a taskforce to chart a roadmap for improving Boston’s primary care system, Mayor Thomas M. Menino presided over his fourth and final ceremony to award this year’s winners the Mayoral Prize for Innovations in Primary Care. It was a night to remember for both the Mayor and the awardees, as more than 150 people gathered in the Hiebert Lounge at Boston University School of Medicine to recognize impressive efforts to enhance substance abuse treatment, community fitness, and workplace wellness.

After the audience enjoyed a special video highlighting Mayor Menino’s leadership in primary care, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), announced the creation of a new challenge grant to honor the Mayor’s legacy. Supported by the generosity of Partners HealthCare and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the Thomas M. Menino Challenge Grant will ensure that the Mayor’s commitment to public health continues after he leaves office by fostering innovation, leadership, and collaboration among future medical professionals.

The grant will be a competitive one-year funding opportunity for up to two Boston-based medical students, residents, or fellows to work with local community health centers to increase access to and availability of high quality primary care services.

Dr. Paula Johnson, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Chair of the Board of BPHC, joined Mayor Menino to honor prize winners for their contributions to improve primary care in healthcare, community-based, and workplace settings.

Boston Medical Center’s Office-Based Opioid Treatment Program (OBOT) received the Mayoral Prize for innovations in a healthcare setting. Learn more about the program’s work in this video.


Healthworks Community Fitness, a nationally-recognized non-profit fitness and health education center for low-income women and children, took home the prize for primary care innovations in a community setting. Learn more about Healthworks’ impactful programming in this video.


Dr. Johnson and Mayor Menino presented the final award of the evening to Bowdoin Street Community Health Center for its ambitious workplace wellness initiative that engaged nearly 90 percent of staff. Learn more about how the workplace wellness challenge motivated Bowdoin Street’s employees to improve their health at work in this video.


Following the award presentations, Dr. Julio Frenk, Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and former Minister of Health in Mexico, inspired the audience with a thought provoking keynote speech about the future of primary care in the era of healthcare reform.

“The time has come to reinvent primary health care and re-launch it as a central component of universal health coverage,” explained Dr. Frenk. He cautioned that the renewal of primary health care should promote major shifts in the relationship between providers and the populations they serve.

Rather than being reactive to demand, providers should be proactive to health needs by anticipating risks in defined populations, Dr. Frenk suggested. He urged policymakers to take a broad look at primary health care instead of viewing it in the narrow sense of a patient’s first contact with services.

“Primary Health Care must articulate interventions by promoting healthy policies to act on the social determinants of disease and disability,” in his estimation. This approach would include “road safety measures to prevent traffic accidents, actions to promote environmental and occupational health, and tax increases to combat tobacco or junk food consumption.”

Dr. Frenk reflected on Mayor Menino’s commitment at a local level and advocated for other leaders to take a similar approach. “We must think of health not only as a specific sector under the responsibility specialized agencies, but as a social objective whose fulfillment demands a broad engagement of all sectors and ultimately the empowerment of individuals.”

While last night marked Mayor Menino’s final primary care awards celebration, thanks to his leadership, Boston will remain a source “not only of innovation, but also of inspiration,” for the rest of the country and the world, as Dr. Frenk concluded.