James and Hilla Bruni Family-Centered Integrated Behavioral Health Program

James and Hilla Bruni in a photo booth around 1950.

Northern Light Mercy Hospital James and Hilla Bruni Family-Centered Integrated Behavioral Health Program

In the fall of 2022, Northern Light Mercy Hospital received a $1.2 million gift from Jerry and Pam Bruni to help address the behavioral health crisis affecting children and their families in greater Portland. This donation from the Brunis, who now live in Colorado, honors Mr. Bruni’s late parents, James and Hilla Bruni, and benefits the community where they raised their family many years ago.

The gift will establish the James and Hilla Bruni Family-Centered Integrated Behavioral Health Program. The new program will build upon Mercy Hospital’s strong community partnerships and fund a specialized and dedicated care team that will provide early intervention treatment to children and their caregivers in need of behavioral health care.

Jerry Bruni was born at Mercy Hospital and attended Deering High School. His father, James, a son of Italian immigrants, was born at home in Portland during the 1918 influenza pandemic—the same year Mercy Hospital was founded. James graduated from Portland High School and worked for the Railway Express Agency and the Maine Central Railroad. He frequently volunteered at his church and at the Portland Boys and Girls Club. He met Hilla Gorwalla in India while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. The couple married in Portland, and they initially settled on Newbury Street. After raising their son and daughter, Hilla went to work for the law firm Bernstein Shur as a legal secretary. Through Hilla’s early encouragement, her son advanced his interest and successful future career in math and science.

James and Hilla Bruni, taken in Karachi (then a part of India) around 1945.

In making their extraordinary gift to Mercy Hospital, Jerry and Pam Bruni wished to honor the lives of James and Hilla and the values of service they championed through helping to stabilize the lives of children who are in crisis while keeping them in their homes. The Brunis’ investment helps fund a pediatric psychiatric provider, a dedicated licensed social worker, and specialized case managers.

“The Brunis’ gift has come at a time when children suffering from behavioral health challenges are ending up in hospital emergency rooms at an alarming rate. The program that will be established through this gift represents an important step forward in addressing this heartbreaking issue facing too many children and families in our community,” said Charlie Therrien, president of Mercy Hospital.

Recruitment for the new pediatric behavioral health team is in process. The program is expected to begin caring for patients by summer 2023.

Photos courtesy of the Bruni family.