Roseanna Means sees opportunity where others may see barriers, whether in college women’s sports or homeless women’s health care.
As an undergraduate, Means joined the new women’s crew team and soon encountered a problem: the team had no women’s locker room. “We had to change in the custodian’s bathroom,” she says. The women petitioned the athletic department and soon got their locker room. Means so enjoyed her athletic experience that she founded the Friends of MIT Crew, along with Jim Bidigare ‘78 and John Miller ‘74. This group, now among the largest of the Institute’s friends groups, raised $1 million in its first 10 years.
After Means earned her MD at Tufts University in 1981, she traveled to Thailand for three months to work with refugees from Pol Pot’s Cambodia. “This was a life-defining moment for me,” she says. “I knew I wanted to work with disenfranchised people.”
She did just that, working in several community-based medical clinics after completing her internship and residency. In 1990, she began practicing internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Health Care for the Homeless clinic. “I noticed that relatively fewer homeless women were using these clinics,” says Means. She believes many women feared being identified at the clinic and targeted later for violence in the streets.
With seed money from a local church, Means founded Women of Means (www.womenofmeans.org) in 1999, a nonprofit group to help homeless women. Today, with Means as president and medical director, the group includes 16 volunteer physicians, six paid nurses, a coördinator, and 20 medical students and residents. They serve women in 12 Boston-area shelters, providing diagnoses, medication, and access to further care, if needed. “We are a bridge between the streets and the health centers,” says Means, “until the women can connect those dots on their own.”
Means, who lives in Wellesley, MA, with her three sons, endured a bout with melanoma in 1986 and her brother’s death from cancer in 1990. “I share my humanity with people who’ve been ravaged, and they see I’ve been broken, too, but I’m okay now,” she says. “If I died tomorrow, I’d know I’ve used my life well.”