Luis Rojas Marcos was born in Seville, Spain (1943). He was a hyperactive child, but thanks to the insistence of his mother he applied his excess of energy to playing drums in a rock music quartet. From a very young age he had a vocation as a doctor encouraged by the stories that his mother told him about his maternal grandfather, a rural doctor in Santander, Spain.
Immediately after graduating from Seville University Medical School (1967), he immigrated to New York City where he completed his residency training in Psychiatry at New York University (NYU) and Bellevue Hospital Center (1972).
In 1972, he was granted by the United States’ National Institute of Health a three-year Fellowship Research Award to study the effects of the language barrier on mentally ill immigrants who had difficulty expressing themselves in English. His studies resulted in several ground breaking publications and demonstrated that the language barrier distorts the communication of these immigrants to the point that the evaluations carried out by psychiatrists without interpreters are unreliable and may give rise to inaccurate diagnoses.1
His work to raise awareness among lawmakers of the problem contributed to the City of New York enactment of the Emergency Room Interpreters Act, which requires all hospitals to have interpreters available so that doctors can communicate effectively with immigrant patients who do not speak English.2 In 1975 he became Chief of the NYU/Bellevue Psychiatric Research Unit, New York. From 1977 until 1981, Dr. Marcos was Director of Psychiatry at Gouverneur Hospital in New York.
Board certified in Psychiatry (1974), in 1977 he was conferred the degree of Doctor of Medical Science by the State University of New York, at Downstate Health Sciences Center.
In 1981, New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch (Democrat) appointed Dr. Marcos Director of psychiatric and prison health services of the City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, the largest public hospital system in the United States. In those years, many American and European cities were suffering the harsh consequences of the hasty and massive closure of psychiatric hospitals as a result of the policies of deinstitutionalization.3
While serving in this position, Dr. Marcos was instrumental in the creation of Project HELP (Homeless Emergency Liaison Project), the first mobile medical/psychiatric unit with the mission of evaluating and hospitalizing seriously mentally ill homeless persons, living on the streets, who by reason of their mental illness were at risk of serious physical harm.4 Psychiatrists, nurses and social workers were part of the mobile unit. In the first year alone, Project HELP provided care to more than 500 homeless people and hospitalized 298 seriously ill patients who received much needed medical and psychiatric care. Project HELP served as a model crisis intervention for other urban centers both in the United States and in other countries.5
In 1992, Mayor David N. Dinkins (Democrat) named Dr. Marcos Commissioner of the New York City Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Alcoholism Services.6
His advocacy and multiple public interventions in favor of creating community mental health services contributed decisively to the December 1993 New York state legislature enacting the Community Mental Health Reinvestment Act. This law established the legal commitment of the government to create mental health services in the community. Another important initiative promoted by Dr. Marcos was the Assisted Outpatient Treatment program to help the mentally ill who due to their illness do not seek or accept treatment. This initiative recognizes that mental illness, unlike other physical ailments, is often characterized by the inability of the patient to recognize and seek help.
Subsequently, the New York State Legislature added to this program the Kendra Act, which requires severe psychiatric patients who are repeatedly hospitalized for noncompliance with treatment, to accept help in community outpatient clinics.7
During his tenure, the Department created the first five culturally competent mental health centers for the Hispanic, Asian, Caribbean and Russian immigrant populations of the City.
Under his leadership, the Department also developed the successful youth violence prevention program Choose to de-fuse.
In 1995, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (Republican) selected Dr. Marcos for President and Chief Executive of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC).8
The Corporation is responsible for delivering public health services and operating the eleven general hospitals, six long-term care facilities and multiple ambulatory care centers throughout the City. At that time, It served about two million patients annually, had a workforce of 43,000 employees, and an annual budget of $5 billion. From 1996 through 2000 HHC achieved financial stability and showed positive balances for the first time ever in its 27-year history. As a result, Wall Street investment companies improved HHC’s ratings, and several hospitals –Bellevue, Kings County, Queens, Jacobi and Coney Island- were rebuilt or extensively renovated.9
Member of the City’s Emergency Management, Dr. Marcos was on the front line during the tragic events of September 11, 2001.10
As President and CEO of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, he played a key role in the organization of the delivery of medical and psychological care of the victims and their families. Later he wrote his personal experience in the book in Spanish Beyond the 11 of September (Espasa, 2002). As he explains, these events solidified his conviction that it is not enough to cure diseases, but it is essential to identify and strengthen the natural human qualities that help overcome adversities and contribute to a healthy and complete life. Dr. Marcos was the longest serving President of the Corporation of his time (1995-2002).
From 2003 to 2007, he was a member of the Board of Directors of Dignity Healthcare West and Chair of its Quality Committee. DHW is a 23-hospital system in California, Nevada and Arizona.
From 2003 until 2013, Dr. Marcos served as Medical Director for Affiliations of NYU School of Medicine where since 1986 has been a tenured Professor of Psychiatry.11
In March 2013 he was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Physician Affiliate Group of New York (PAGNY), the largest physician group in New York State. PAGNY’s 3,500 professionals provide comprehensive health services at six New York City hospitals, and the NYC Correctional Facilities, including Rikers Island.12
Dr. Marcos is an Associate Member of the New York State Education Department Board for Medicine, a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine, and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. In March 2008 he was appointed by the State legislature to the New York State Palliative Care Education and Training Council.
Dr. Marcos has published extensively in English and Spanish in the areas of public health and cultural psychiatry. He has contributed extensively to the study of the language and cultural barriers of mentally ill immigrants, the special needs of the urban homeless population, and the development of public health policy (see scientific publications).
Dr. Marcos regularly collaborates with Spanish institutions devoted to social and public health issues. He has published several bestseller books on current psychosocial subjects in the Spanish language e.g., The Seeds of Violence, Our Happiness, Beyond September 11th, The Force of Optimism, Self-esteem, Overcoming adversity, You Are Your Memory, and Secrets of Happiness. He has co-authored with Dr. Valentín Fuster, head of cardiology at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center "Heart and Mind".
In 2010 the Spanish government awarded Dr. Marcos the 'Medal of the Arts and Literature of Spain “In recognition of the international projection of his medical and literary trajectory”.
LHe has been conferred Doctor Honoris Causa degrees by Ramon Llull University (2013), Basque Country University (2014), and Burgos University (2015), Spain.
Luis Rojas Marcos has four children (Laura, Bruno, Joseph and Carolena), and three grandchildren (Luis, Belen and Rafael). His hobbies include playing the piano, the guitar and drums; writing essays in Spanish; riding his motorcycle, and running the New York City Marathon (he has run it 23 consecutive times).
1 Marcos, L.R. et al: The language barrier in evaluating Spanish-American patients. Archives of General Psychiatry, 29:655-659, 1973. Marcos, LR et al: The effect of interview language on the evaluation of psychopathology in Spanish American schizophrenic patients. American Journal of Psychiatry, 130:549-553, 1973.2 New York City Laws. Administrative Code 17-174 – Provision of Interpretation Services in Hospitals, 1986.3 Marcos, L.R. et al: Taking the suspected mentally ill off the streets to public general hospitals. The New England Journal of Medicine, 315:1158-1161, 1986.4 Josh Barbanel: “Mentally Ill Homeless Taken Off of New York Streets,” New York Times, Oct 29, 1987 A1. Josh Barbanel: Bellevue Unit to Aid Koch Homeless Plan, The New York Times, September 14, 1987.5 Marcos, L.R. et al: Psychiatry takes to the streets: the New York City initiative for the homeless mentally ill, American Journal of Psychiatry, 147:1557-1561, 1990.6 James McKinley: Dinkins names Commissioner of Mental Health. The New York Times, June 17, 1992.7 The Community Mental Health Reinvestment Act. An Agenda for Albany. Editorial. The New York Times, June 29, 1993. Lynda Richardson: Helping the Mentally Ill Return to the World. The New York Times, March 21, 1993. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kendra's_Law8 Kimberly J. McLarin: Man in the News; Savvy Troubleshooter -- Luis Rojas Marcos. The New York Times, September 3, 1995. Luis Marcos: There is a Doctor in the House. Editorial. The New York Observer, September 25,1995.9 Mark Mooney: Health and Hospitals Corporation back in health. New York Daily News, October 27,1996. Esther B. Fein: New York Hospitals Agency Showing Financial Strength. The New York Times, April 4, 1997. Randy Kennedy: The Healer of Injured and Ailing Hospitals. Luis Rojas Marcos. The New York Times, November 4,1999. Barbara Benson: Keeping Hospitals and Neighborhoods Alive. Crain’s New York Business, May 15, 2000.10 Dan Barry: A Day of Terror: Hospitals. The New York Times, September 12, 200111http://www.med.nyu.edu/biosketch/marcol0112www.pagny.org