Ralph Fuccillo has spent his entire professional career—more than 35 years—leading efforts to improve public health and public health infrastructure through his work at organizations like DentaQuest, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, and the Medical Foundation, Inc. His commitment to service has been just as prominent throughout his career. Fuccillo is a current or past director or trustee on the boards of an impressive number of organizations dedicated to improving health for poor and marginalized people, including the Texas Health Institute, the U.S. National Oral Health Alliance, the Massachusetts Dental Society Foundation, AIDS Action Committee, the Boston Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program, and the Massachusetts Health Council.. He has also served as chair of The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship’s (ASF) board of directors. erving the missions of these organizations is a cornerstone of Ralph’s commitment to the future of health and communities in the U.S. With his colleagues at DentaQuest, the SantaFe Group, and his philanthropic colleagues across the nation, he is connecting resources and people in innovative and responsive ways.
Fuccillo will receive ASF’s Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism this year, a well-earned recognition for a man who is as unassuming as he is committed to social justice in health care. The Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism is given annually to an individual whose life example has significantly mitigated the social determinants of health in the U.S. and/or abroad, and whose commitment to service influences and inspires others. Fuccillo will be honored at ASF’s annual SPARK! Awards Gala in conjunction with the SPARK! Leadership Conference. The 2016 SPARK! Awards will take place on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016 from 6-9pm at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel in Boston.
Fuccillo is president of the Boston-based DentaQuest Foundation, the country’s leading oral health philanthropy. In that role, he has become something of an evangelist for oral health, taking every opportunity to raise awareness among health care professionals, policy makers and the public alike about the need to improve oral health for all. This is no frivolous mission when one considers the fact that lack of access to affordable dental care, particularly for low-income and other marginalized populations, is one of the most persistent, widespread, and largely ignored problems in our healthcare system. Fuccillo last year called for an “oral health movement” modeled on those methods deployed by HIV activists and behavioral health advocates to successfully promote systems change solutions to improve oral health, including evidence-based understanding of the root causes of dental disease; achieving consensus and parity in coverage and care systems; engaging grassroots supporters; and promoting the development of new treatment and prevention methods.
“We need to eradicate dental disease in children and we need to create a lifespan of oral health,” Fuccillo told attendees at the National Dental Association Foundation’s Oral Health Summit. “Let’s change the norm. Let’s say, ‘Expect oral health.’”
Fuccillo draws inspiration for an oral health movement from decades long commitment to HIV/AIDS activism. For better or worse, it was the AIDS epidemic that led him into his distinguished public health career. Fuccillo was a Catholic high school teacher in the 1980s when friends of his began getting sick and dying from the still-mysterious and panic-inducing disease. He channeled his deep sorrow into developing sexuality education and prevention programs for young people. In 1985, Fuccillo partnered with AIDS Action Committee on a presentation for students at a Boston-area Catholic high school for girls, a potentially controversial move he pulled off in large part due to his respect for his audience and the religious institution within which he was operating.
Not long after that, Fuccillo abandoned the stability and security of his teaching post for a different type of educational work. Taking a job at The Medical Foundation, Inc., known today as Health Resources in Action (HRiA), Fuccillo developed a peer leadership AIDS prevention program for high school students that the organization still uses to this day. At the same time, he teamed up with colleague and friend, Kevin Cranston to teach Harvard Divinity School students how toembrace people with AIDS, offering a more productive framework based on being of help rather than judgement and condemnation.
This work set the stage for Fuccillo’s ever-expanding leadership positions in the public health field, culminating with his current post at DentaQuest, where he has been for the last decade.
“AIDS activists changed the course of prevention and treatment,” Fuccillo has said. With his leadership, the idea of a coordinated oral health movement stamping out the scourge of oral disease—which, Fuccillo is fond of pointing out, are almost 100 percent preventable— acknowledging the commitment of more than 1,000 “activists” in a national oral health network – isn’t so difficult to imagine.