Ex-Health chief Rodríguez Mercado awarded Legion of Merit
By The Star Staff
The U.S. Armed Forces has awarded the Legion of Merit (LOM) to former Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez Mercado for his meritorious conduct in the performance of services and achievements.
The Legion of Merit is one of only two United States military decorations, the other being the Medal of Honor, that is given as a neck order.
Rodríguez Mercado, who has been in the armed forces since 1988, is currently a colonel and an adjunct professor in the Department of Surgery and Neurosciences of the Uniformed Services University. He is also a professor at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus, where he was previously a chancellor, and also teaches at the Ponce Health Sciences University. Rodríguez Mercado has also conducted evaluations of students at Mt. Sinai, Cornell University and New York Medical College.
In an interview with the STAR, Rodríguez Mercado, who joined the armed forces as a captain, said the award was given for his contributions to the field and excellent performance over the past 10 years in the military.
Joining the armed forces allowed him to be able to study neurosurgery. He had to work two years for the armed forces for every year he was paid. While he could have left the military after 18 years, “I ended up staying for 35.”
Rodríguez Mercado was instrumental in helping avoid infections after a natural disaster. He noted that Puerto Rico was used as a model after Hurricane Maria.
He was the only Health secretary who did not receive a salary in the post. He was granted permission to use 20% of his time as secretary to perform operations because of the severe shortage of neurosurgeons in Puerto Rico and he has performed work for free.
“In December 2019, I only got $1,400 as income, which was tough,” he said.
He resigned as Health secretary in 2020.
While it has not been widely publicized, Rodríguez Mercado played a key role in the UPR Medical Sciences campus getting its accreditation back. He is a member of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and was consulted on the matter.
The magazine Galenus notes that Rodríguez Mercado has performed some 2,000 endovascular corrections in people with intracranial congenital vascular malformations, it being one of the largest series with one of the lowest postoperative mortality rates in the world.
He is active in 15 prestigious international medical societies and has participated in multiple scientific research projects. He has made more than 140 oral presentations in Puerto Rico as well as in more than 20 countries: South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Korea, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Spain, United States, Italy, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Portugal, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Rodríguez Mercado has been a speaker outside of Puerto Rico on more than 100 occasions. He is the author or co-author of 25 scientific articles in prestigious journals, such as Neurosurgery, Stroke, American Journal of Neuroradiology, and has written three chapters for medical books.