Dr. Vincent J. Fontana, led fight against child abuse


Dr. Vincent J. Fontana, medical director and chief pediatrician of New York Foundling Hospital in Chelsea and for whom the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection in the Village was named, died suddenly on July 5 while vacationing on Block Island.

He was 81 and made his home in Stony Brook on Long Island.

A pioneer in the prevention of child abuse and the care of abused children, he spent 43 years as medical director of New York Foundling Hospital and served as chairperson of the Mayor’s Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect under Mayors John Lindsay, Abraham Beame and Edward I. Koch.

Last year, New York Foundling established its center for prevention and treatment of abused and neglected children on Christopher St. in Greenwich Village and named it for Dr. Fontana in recognition of his work in the field.

In 1963, he wrote “The Maltreatment Syndrome in Children,” a groundbreaking article that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. In 1972 he established one of the nation’s first multidisciplinary temporary shelter residential centers for abusive mothers and their children. In 1982, he founded a Crisis Nursery Island of Safety program for abused and neglected children. Dr. Fontana was the author of more than 150 scientific articles.

He graduated from Long Island College of Medicine in Brooklyn in 1947 and served internships and residencies in medicine, obstetrics and pediatrics at Kings County Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital, St. Francis Hospital for Cardiac Children and Kingston Avenue Hospital for Contagion.

He served in the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md., and was personal physician to the secretary of the Navy. In 1954 he received the Navy Surgeon General’s Citation of Excellence. He attended to President Dwight D. Eisenhower when the president was at Camp David and was Cardinal Francis Spellman’s personal physician.

A brother, Joseph Fontana, and a sister, Lee Bobrow, survive. A funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on July 11. Gifts may be made in his memory to the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection, c/o The New York Foundling Hospital, 590 Sixth Ave., NY, NY 10011.