“Doctor Hotspot” Wins MacArthur Genius Grant

September 25, 2013
by Sarah Childress Senior Reporter

Moved by the shooting death of Hiram Rosa, a 22-year-old Rutgers University student whose life he had tried to save, Dr. Jeffrey Brenner hoped to encourage the police to step up patrols in high-crime areas by mapping where incidents occurred.

So Brenner started looking at hospital billing data, building a searchable database to try to map high-crime “hot spots.”

But his findings quickly took him in a new direction. Brenner found that 1 percent of Camden patients were racking up 30 percent of hospital costs. He thought if he could target those patients, he could make a different kind of difference.

Brenner founded the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers to track the city’s poorest patients, helping them receive better care — including home visits from nurses and social workers — while reducing health-care costs.

Today, Brenner, who was featured in the 2011 FRONTLINE short film Doctor Hotspot, was awarded a “genius grant,” a $625,000 award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to help continue his work. (The MacArthur Foundation also provides funding to FRONTLINE.)

In announcing the grant, the foundation lauded the database and geographic mapping that Brenner used. “Brenner has demonstrated that using this model of cooperative care … can reduce repeated emergency room visits and hospitalizations and lower health care costs,” it said in a statement.

Brenner’s already expanding beyond his hometown. He is working with 10 other cities nationwide, including San Diego, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Allentown Penn., to develop new, sustainable health-care systems that are specifically adapted to the challenges in each community.

“This is a vote of confidence in a critical moment, and helps us keep our momentum,” Brenner told FRONTLINE. “Doing this kind of work is very challenging, and this helps propel us forward.”

Watch his story in the film above.

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