Beloved UF Health leader whose work has helped thousands of children passes away

Dr. Richard BucciarelliA longtime University of Florida Health leader who spent his career working to improve the health of children across the country through policy reform and in the neonatal intensive care unit, where he cared for the hospital’s tiniest patients, passed away Sept. 20 at age 69.

A faculty member in the UF College of Medicine department of pediatrics since 1982, Richard Bucciarelli, M.D., was a former chair of the department who also played key roles in government relations for the university, having served as UF’s vice president for government relations between 2002 and 2004.

Throughout his career, Bucciarelli was a well-known and respected national health policy leader and children’s health advocate whose work with national leaders has led to legislation and bills presented to Congress.

“Rick had the amazing ability to touch the lives of tiny infants directly in his care as a neonatologist, and touch the lives of thousands more through his amazing advocacy in pediatric public service. Rick was a leader in pediatrics, not just in Florida, but nationally. Sadly, most of all, we have not just lost a spectacular and gracious physician and leader, we have all lost a kind and genuine friend,” said Scott A. Rivkees, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the department of pediatrics and the Nemours eminent scholar chair in pediatrics.

A native of Michigan, Bucciarelli earned his medical degree from the University of Michigan in 1972. He first came to UF as a resident, completing a residency in pediatrics in the UF College of Medicine, as well as fellowships in neonatology and cardiology. After leaving UF, he served on the faculty at the University of Utah prior to returning to the College of Medicine in 1982 as chief of the division of neonatology in the department of pediatrics.

In 1990, he took a sabbatical, working as a Robert Wood Johnson health policy fellow. During this time, he began working with West Virginia Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, helping to draft legislation about the Medicare physician payment system and universal health care. His work in shaping health policy efforts continued at UF and at the national level. He served as the vice president for health affairs for governmental affairs in the Health Science Center and later as vice president for government affairs for the entire university. In 2003, he devised a successful care model for children with special health needs, called Ped-I-Care. Ped-I-Care received national honors in 2011 from the Medical Group Management Association.      

He also took on crucial leadership roles with the American Academy of Pediatrics, leading the academy’s Committee on Federal Government Affairs and Subcommittee on Access to Care. In 2013 he received the Clifford G. Grulee Award for outstanding service to the AAP.

“Throughout all of this, even when he was busy, he always made a point to do clinical work on the floor in neonatology,” said Amy Bucciarelli, M.S., ATR-BC, LMHC, his daughter and an art therapist with UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine. “He wanted to save families and save lives. His health policy work was an extension of that; he wasn’t just impacting one baby, but many children at one time.”

He cared greatly about giving back to the community as well, supporting organizations such as Children’s Miracle Network and the Sebastian Ferrero Foundation. An accomplished cook who took classes on French cuisine while living in Utah, Bucciarelli also was known to team up with Ira Gessner, M.D., former chief of cardiology in the UF department of pediatrics, offering their culinary expertise to raise money for charity.

As chair of the department of pediatrics, a role he held from 2008 to 2011, Bucciarelli, led efforts to establish a dedicated emergency room for children, oversaw renovations to the pediatric oncology unit, established a division of hospital medicine and recruited 45 new faculty members to the department.

“Dr. Bucciarelli did it all,” said Michael Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine and the Folke Peterson’s dean’s distinguished professor. “He provided lifesaving care to newborns with extreme health challenges, he taught thousands of medical students and trained pediatricians how to become exceptional physicians, and he significantly helped to shape health policy for children throughout our state and nation. In one way or another, he touched the lives of millions. And much of the time he served these causes behind the scenes, preferring to direct credit for accomplishment to his partners and colleagues.”

Despite all these accomplishments, to those who knew him, Bucciarelli will be remembered most for his kindness, positive outlook and unwavering commitment to his family, friends and the tiny patients he cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit throughout his career.

“He was an eternal optimist,” Amy Bucciarelli said. “Even throughout his illness up until the time of his death, he always was telling us it was all going to work out. That is just the way he approached life; life is an adventure, roll with the punches, because everything will be OK. He has really taught me to not be afraid to take risks and to not view them as risks but as adventures.”

Because of their unusual last name, Bucciarelli’s son, Chris Bucciarelli, M.D., chief resident in the UF department of emergency medicine, says he is asked frequently if he is related to his father. When he says yes, the response he receives is always the same, he said.

“People always say, ‘He is the nicest guy in the world,’” Chris Bucciarelli said.

“Hearing that, it makes me feel proud to be related to him. He served as a role model in so many ways: family values, having an amazing bedside manner and being able to establish good relationships with colleagues … those are things I try to emulate and make a part of my practice.”

Aside from his love of cooking, which he passed on to daughter Amy, Bucciarelli loved skiing, jazz and all things Gator. His voicemail message said, “If you ain’t a Gator, you must be Gator bait.”

Bucciarelli is survived by his wife of 46 years, Lynda, his daughter, Amy and son, Chris. His life will be celebrated with a vigil service on at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28, and a mass at noon Tuesday, Sept. 29, at the St. Augustine Catholic Church in Gainesville. Orange and blue attire is encouraged. In lieu of flowers, please visit www.youcaring.com/rickbucciarelli.

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April Frawley Lacey

Editor / College of Medicine Science Writer

Editor of The Post and a medical writer in the HSC Office of News & Communications. Before joining the HSC News & Communications staff, she was a reporter and assistant...Read More