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SPAA Alumnus John Palatucci (MPA'16) Turns Personal Challenge into Health Policy Goals

John Palatucci (left) accepts Pi Alpha Alpha Manuscript Award from David Marshall, Director of Membership Development at NASPAA (right). (photo by Palm Rattana)

At the 2017 Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) Conference, Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) alumnus John Palatucci (MPA’16) won the Pi Alpha Alpha Master’s Student Manuscript Award for his capstone paper “Mental Health Expenditures and Juvenile Violent Crime: A Policy Analysis with Panel Data.” His research explored the relationship between state government mental health expenditures and juvenile violent crime rates and determined that when states increased spending on mental health, juvenile crime rates decreased.

 “It was an incredible encouragement to see a project and topic that I am so passionate about being recognized, but I also feel like I just scratched the surface. I look forward to further studying in this area and continuing to write about what I learn,” Palatucci said. 

“Both in and out of the classroom, Mr. Palatucci illustrates his commitment to the common good and the promotion of public health,” said Dr. Rachel Emas, an assistant teaching professor at SPAA.

Palatacci’s capstone was the final project in his master’s program focused on health care administration, a stark change in direction from his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics.

“During my undergrad, my intent was to use my studies for a career where I could make the biggest impact and I saw economics as a way to understand a lot of the phenomena going on in the world and use that to make a positive difference.”

In 2010, Palatucci’s career plans derailed when he found himself struggling with bipolar disorder while living in California. When he realized that he couldn’t manage the issue alone, he relocated to New Jersey to be with his parents and get the help that he needed.

Palatucci credits the Affordable Care Act (Obamcare) with saving his life by allowing him to get treatment under the act’s provision that allows individuals under the age of 26 to be insured through their parents’ health care plan.

After getting treatment and overcoming his challenges, Palatucci’s experience made him realize that if he wanted to make an impact, he wanted to do it in the public sector by helping to shape health policy.

“There’s a big problem with stigma associated with mental illness where it’s treated differently than most other conditions, and I want to change that,” he said.

Driven by his newfound desire to affect health policy, Palatucci chose to enroll in SPAA where he could develop a health care expertise while staying close to his parents who were a strong support system.

During his time in the program, Palatucci worked as a research assistant at the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy and advanced into his current position as a health policy fellow researching issues of health access, including access to mental health treatment, and assisting with policy recommendations for New Jersey.

“I had the great opportunity at SPAA to work with research professors and adjuncts who came in as professionals from different health care settings and develop my quantitative skills as well as a broad understanding of the health insurance and health care environments throughout the country,” Palatucci said. “My concentration dovetails nicely with my position at the center, and there’s a lot of opportunity to translate the academic coursework into my professional experience.”

Palatucci is now looking toward the next step in his education by applying to PhD programs in health policy with the goal of one day serving as the director of a research organization that focuses on mental health.

He is also celebrating life as a newlywed who received his award from NASPAA just five days after his wedding.

Despite his successes, Palatucci prefers not to single out any one moment as his greatest achievement and instead focuses on everyday victories that enrich his life and shape his priorities.

“Life is good and life is bad and I face each day and keep going. I think that once you say something is your greatest accomplishment, you give yourself permission to say you’re done,” Palatucci said. “I view life with a sense of optimism, and I’m proud of the way I carry on.”