Dr. Jason Q. Purnell joined the James S. McDonnell Foundation as president in 2023. He came to the foundation from BJC HealthCare, where he led the establishment of the Community Health Improvement strategy for one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems, beginning in 2020. Working with his team, systemwide colleagues, and a broad group of community partners, Purnell launched health equity efforts to address the physical, emotional, and financial health of those most impacted by unequal access to life-sustaining resources and opportunities. He also introduced an anchor institution agenda for BJC that included significant investments in community and economic development and commitments to hiring and purchasing in 22 zip codes with at least 20% poverty rates and majority Black populations.
Dr. Purnell’s work at BJC built upon his scholarship and leadership as a faculty member in the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. He joined the Brown School in 2009 as a research assistant professor in the Health Communication Research Laboratory, was appointed assistant professor in 2011, and was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2017. In 2014, Dr. Purnell and a team of colleagues at Washington University and Saint Louis University released For the Sake of All, a landmark report on the health and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis. It remains an essential work for those seeking to understand how race and place have shaped the health and life outcomes of the region; has inspired numerous policy and programmatic innovations; and is taught in curricula ranging from Pre-K to graduate-level courses.
A 2018 follow-on report, Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide, helped to launch an affordable housing trust fund for St. Louis County, among several of its recommendations that have since been enacted. In addition to his community-engaged scholarship, Dr. Purnell was a highly regarded course instructor in both the public health and social work graduate programs and published 40 peer-reviewed papers in journals like JAMA, Annual Review of Public Health, Journal of Clinical Oncology, and American Journal of Public Health. Media coverage of his work and his commentary has appeared in the Washington Post, CNN.com, Huffington Post, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, NPR, The Atlantic, FOX Business News, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis American, Riverfront Times, and St. Louis Magazine.
Dr. Purnell graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University with a bachelor of arts degree in government and philosophy. His doctoral studies were completed at The Ohio State University, and his masters in public health as well as a postdoctoral fellowship in cancer prevention and control at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. He is a member of the Roundtable on Population Health Improvement in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the Advisory Board of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellows program. In 2021, he was recognized by Modern Healthcare as one of the Top 25 Diverse Healthcare Leaders in the country. Local honors include being named Person of the Year by the St. Louis American in 2017 and receiving the FOCUS St. Louis Leadership Award in 2016.