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‘Genius Grant’  Winners Unveiled

Chicago — The old man couldn’t control his diabetes, no matter how closely he followed his doctor’s instructions. A nurse visited him to find out why the insulin wasn’t working, only to watch the nearly blind man inadvertently inject himself with a syringe filled with nothing but air.

It sounds simple to track a patient outside of office visits. But the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation found the idea genius.

Jeffrey Brenner, a doctor and founder of the organization that dispatches medical professionals to the doors of the desperately poor residents of Camden, N.J., was named Wednesday as one of 24 to receive a $625,000 “genius grant” from the foundation.

“This is an acknowledgment that we are headed in the right direction,” Brenner said.

The 44-year-old created the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers as a means to find and track the poorest patients with the most complex medical issues. Those patients are visited wherever they are — at home, in shelters — and escorted to doctor’s appointments.

“We cut, scan, zap and hospitalize (patients),” said Brenner, whose group is now working with 10 communities to develop similar systems. “But we forget we need to take care of them.”

The eclectic group of grant recipients includes scientists, artists, historians, writers, a lawyer, a statistician and a photographer. They can spend the money however they like, for seeing things others haven’t, asking questions others haven’t asked and finding new solutions to old problems.

The awards, given annually since 1981, are doled out over a five-year period. This year’s class brings the number of recipients to nearly 900, and also will be given the largest amount ever — $125,000 more than last year. Shrouded in secrecy, the selection process involves anonymous nominators and selectors who make final recommendations to the foundation’s Board of Directors.