Photo Courtesy of Samaritan Village
Richard Pruss was 75.
By Forum Staff
Richard Pruss, a pioneer in the field of substance use disorder treatment, died on July 14, 2018 at the age of 75. He was President and CEO of Samaritan Village from 1974-2008. During his tenure, Samaritan Village grew from a single outpatient clinic in donated office space of a factory in Richmond Hill, to one of the largest non-profit providers of community-based substance use treatment centers in New York State.
In the summer of 1965, Pruss, then 22 years old, heard a public service announcement seeking volunteers to work with a local Episcopalian priest to aid troubled young men and women at what was then the Samaritan Halfway Society in Corona.
By 1974, Pruss, working with other greats in the field, had successfully developed and opened one of the nation’s first therapeutic communities using community as method and offering methadone as one of its treatment options. That same year he was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of what would become Samaritan Village.
New York State was experiencing an influx of veterans returning from Vietnam, who were homeless, addicted to heroin and struggling with alcoholism. Pruss worked with a core group to develop a holistic treatment model for veterans where drug and alcohol use disorders, trauma and other mental health issues including “shell shock” and later PTSD, could be addressed simultaneously.
In 1996 Pruss founded the first licensed residential treatment program exclusively for veterans that would become recognized nationally for clinical excellence.
Over the next three decades, Pruss guided Samaritan Village’s expansion from the acquisition of a two-family house that became a 12-bed residential therapeutic community, to a former resort on 100+ acres in upstate New York.
In 1991, he launched the “On the Right Track” program at Grand Central Station for homeless addicts, many of whom were Vietnam vets. The Forbell Men’s Shelter followed in 1995, offering temporary shelter to homeless men referred by the City, while they got treatment. In 1992, Pruss partnered with the Brooklyn DA’s Office to develop treatment services for persons involved in the criminal justice system through innovative “alternatives to incarceration” programs. In 1994, Samaritan Village began to confront the challenges posed by addicts in treatment living with HIV/AIDS and established the nation’s first nursing home for this population in conjunction with two other agencies.
Cognizant of the need to foster personal and professional growth among its clients, Pruss introduced services to encourage residents to pursue education and career training while in treatment. Samaritan Village was also one of the first providers to offer primary health care services alongside treatment to address Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases facing clients.
Throughout his career, Mr. Pruss was an active advocate on behalf of addicted individuals, spending countless hours educating legislators and policy makers about the plight of those with substance use disorders. He was a founding member and past President of the national Therapeutic Communities of America and the New York Therapeutic Communities Association. He also helped found the New York State Association of Substance Abuse Providers and served as President from 1988-1992.
Pruss was Chairman of the Board of Damian Family Care Centers, Inc., a primary medical health center and dental care services provider in New York State, as well as former member of the HELP/PSI Board. In 2007, Mr. Pruss was the recipient of the Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Pruss stepped down as President and CEO of Samaritan Village in 2008. He served as Board President of Samaritan from 2014-2017.
As Chairman of the Samaritan Village Board, Pruss oversaw the historic merger of Samaritan Village with the iconic Daytop Village in 2015, preserving treatment programs throughout New York State, and forming what is now Samaritan Daytop Village.
In addition to his wife of 18 years, Kathleen A. Riddle, co-founder of the Queens based treatment agency Outreach, he is survived by daughters Deena Mauro and Jenny Pruss, a brother Sheldon Pruss and his wife Christine, son-in law Thomas Mauro, granddaughters Montana Mauro, Paige Mauro, and Sydney Hain, a grandson Dalton Hain, eight nephews and six nieces.
Contributions may be made to the Samaritan Daytop Foundation, or the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.