On February 11, 2014, over 100 guests came together at Fountain House’s Peter B. Lewis and Adam Lewis Wellness Center to honor Dr. Ralph Aquila for his 20 years of devoted service to Fountain House members. Elyn Saks, USC law professor and acclaimed author of The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, made the trip from the West Coast to honor Ralph. Professor Saks was a 2009 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, and used funds from the "genius grant" to create the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics. Internationally renowned mezzo soprano Kiri Parker celebrated Dr. Aquila’s love of opera by performing two breathtaking arias.
During a very special part of the program, four Fountain House members and patients of Dr. Aquila presented him with an award. John R. delivered moving remarks about the effectiveness of his doctor’s tough-love approach to treatment that always focuses on strengths rather than disabilities. John went on to thank Dr. Aquila for “seeing the brilliance of the human soul."
As a community psychiatrist, Dr. Aquila has helped thousands of indigent New Yorkers living with some of the most serious forms of mental illness, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He pioneered the concept of a “health home” long before it gained popularity in the rest of the country. At the Sidney R. Baer Jr. Health Center, where Dr. Aquila is Director, Fountain House members receive comprehensive medical and behavioral health services at one state-of-the-art centralized location.
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Dr. Aquila is largely responsible for establishing and growing Fountain House’s wellness program, which addresses disturbing statistics that demonstrate people with mental illness live on average 25 years less than the general population. Studies also confirm they have higher smoking and substance abuse rates, poor diets, greater exposure to infectious diseases, are less physically active, lack education about healthy alternatives, and suffer from endocrine, neurologic, cardiovascular side effects and weight gain from antipsychotic medications. The wellness program’s goals are to create a health-conscious culture at Fountain House and to introduce a broad array of wellness practices into the life of the community, offering education and resources so members can make healthy life-choices.
Development Officer, Fountain House