3-Minute Interview: Alicia Boccellari

The director of the Division of Psychosocial Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital is among the recipients of the 2008 Heroes & Hearts Award. Presented by the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, the honor goes to San Francisco workers who demonstrate exceptional and inspirational behavior in the community. Boccellari will join this year’s four other honorees at Union Square on Feb. 14 for a luncheon.

What does your title mean? I help run programs that remove barriers to care for people who don’t have access to, or resist, health care — those affected by chronic poverty, drug use or who are victims of violence of inequities in the social system. The programs aren’t just for people who are homeless or who have mental health problems.

What did you do to earn the Heroes distinction? First, I want to say that I feel incredibly honored and touched. Some of my staff nominated me, but the credit really belongs to them. They’re doing really incredible work, and the patients are, too.

Does your work correspond to any of the mayor’s initiatives on the homeless? Our Emergency Department Case Management Program, which serves people who have visited the hospital emergency room more than 50 times in a year, has won awards and been replicated in 10 cities.

Dealing with such difficult issues sounds depressing. How do you cope? The work has enormous challenges, being witness to people at their lowest point. Yet it’s balanced by seeing how people find strength, of recognizing how resilient they are. We open ourselves to small miracles every day.

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