Skip to Main Content


In Memoriam: Frank Fortunati, JD, MD

March 06, 2023

This obituary was prepared by John Krystal, MD, chair, Yale Department of Psychiatry, and Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Professor of Translational Research and Professor of Psychiatry, of Neuroscience, and Psychology. It was shared March 6 with faculty, trainees, and staff in the Yale Department of Psychiatry.

I have the sad task of sharing the news of the death on March 5, 2023, of Frank Fortunati, JD, MD, at the age of 58. Frank had led a protracted, courageous battle against cancer. Frank was assistant professor and deputy chair for Yale New Haven Health System for psychiatry. Since 2016, he served as vice chief and medical director of psychiatry and behavioral health for Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH).

Frank was a transformative leader for YNHH and the health system. He restructured YNHH Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, creating the five sections (Inpatient Psychiatry, Ambulatory Services, Psychological Medicine, Interventional Psychiatry, and Emergency Services) and developed a cadre of young leaders. He led the reorganization of the inpatient units to better align them with the sites in which they were localized. He placed renewed emphasis and built new infrastructure to foster improved quality of care. During COVID, he mobilized his team to rapidly transition ambulatory services to telemedicine, to restructure inpatient care to manage COVID-infected patients with urgent psychiatric illness, and to mobilize Psychiatry and Behavioral Health in support of healthcare providers throughout the medical center.

Frank grew up in New Jersey and he completed most of his education there. After a BS in pharmacy at Rutgers, he attended Rutgers University School of Law. He then obtained his MD from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. After a medical internship at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, he came to Yale, where he completed psychiatry residency and fellowships in child/adolescent psychiatry and forensic psychiatry.

Frank had remarkably broad expertise in psychiatry. It was no accident that he received our department’s highest honor, the Fleck Award, in 2020. As a lawyer, he knew the statutes that governed the practice of psychiatry and medical billing. As an adult and child/adolescent psychiatrist, he had a deep understanding of the needs of patients and their families. As a forensic psychiatrist, he was an effective advocate for patients at the interface of psychiatry and the legal system. He also carefully managed details, tracking funds flow, business practices, and clinical metrics.

Frank cared deeply about his colleagues, staff, trainees, and patients. He was a very able and much beloved mentor. During his tenure, two of “his” YNHH faculty became psychiatry chairs at other departments (U. Rochester, U. Massachusetts) and one left to become CMO of a large healthcare system. He recruited most of the current YNHH psychiatry faculty and fostered their career development. He was involved with all of the YNHHS delivery networks; helping to place Yale faculty at each institution and building the cross-institutions collaborations. He had a clear-eyed view of the psychiatry mission. He led by example, often serving in multiple roles (vice chief, section head, inpatient medical director). He earned the respect of everyone who worked with him. His credibility enabled him to drive change and improve quality. He put others ahead of his personal needs, repeatedly declining to complete the paperwork necessary for his own promotion in the service of looking out for others.

Frank was also an effective public advocate in the service of those with mental illnesses. As part of the Connecticut Hospital Association, he advocated vigorously for support for the treatment of individuals with mental illness. He also testified regularly in front of the state government. He served on several national committees, where his input was invaluable. He also was active in the department’s COVID Healthcare Worker Support Task Force and Antiracism Task Force.

It is heartbreaking that Frank died just as he was reaching his peak impact. I got to know him in 2012, in the context of the merger of YNHH with the Hospital of St. Raphael. In those meetings and in every meeting since, Frank shared a positive vision for mental health care. It was a special pleasure to work closely with him and to observe his rapid growth as a leader. His words were empathic, thoughtful, and inspiring. His humility, transparency, and incredible personal commitment were always evident. Beyond work, it was always a pleasure to hear him play his saxophone with the Department Band.

Frank is survived by his wife, Karen, and their children, Jenna and Frank.

A memorial service for Frank will be held on Saturday, March 11, at 10:30 am at St. Mary Church, 70 Gulf St., Milford, CT.

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on March 06, 2023