The director of community health promotions at Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health in New Brunswick received the RISE Health Care Hero Award on Monday, March 21 at The RISE Summit on Social Determinants of Health in Nashville.

RISE is pleased to announce that Mariam Merced, MA, director, RWJUH community health promotions, New Brunswick, Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health, was awarded the inaugural RISE Health Care Hero Award at The RISE Summit on Social Determinants of Health.

The RISE Health Care Hero Award is a new accolade presented at The RISE Summit on Social Determinants of Health that acknowledges an individual’s effort to make a significant impact on the lives of underserved populations through health care and/or social services interventions, and through superior example of the RISE mission to promote health equity among all patients.

Merced was chosen from a pool of 29 nominees for the award for her work to address social determinants of health (SDoH), the non-medical factors that impact an individual’s health, throughout the New Brunswick community. Among her many accomplishments:

  • Oversaw the development of a regional health consortium
  • Spearheaded a medical interpreters’ project to provide in-person interpretation services as an alternative to the hospital’s telephone language line
  • Developed a domestic violence training program to educate more than 600 health care workers, across three states, about the public health impact of domestic violence
  • Led efforts to expand access to safe and affordable housing and raise awareness of housing as a key SDoH
  • Coordinated COVID-19 response programs, initiatives, and communications to support residents experiencing poor health, social, and economic outcomes as a result of the pandemic and resulting disparities

Fellow award finalists included Anthony Davis, community health worker, Penn Center for Community Health Workers, and Dr. Frederick Echols, health commissioner, St. Louis City Department of Health.

“Mariam Merced has spent the past three decades improving health outcomes and quality of life for individuals and communities throughout Middlesex County. Her passion and dedication to serve others knows no bounds–even using a bullhorn to get important messages out to the community,” wrote Lauren Scrivo-Harris, government affairs and public relations specialist, RWJBarnabas Health, in the nomination. “Throughout her tenure, she has been a staunch advocate for supporting patients and neighboring communities through programs, such as holiday celebrations for low-income children, violence prevention and intervention, drug and alcohol cessation, back-to-school donations, youth summer employment programs, and community health screenings.”

Merced also actively partners with houses of worship, health institutions, and community-based organizations throughout the community to ensure culturally appropriate health initiatives for diverse populations.

“She is truly a health care hero to so many, having a lasting impact on every resident and far beyond the region,” wrote Scrivo-Harris in the nomination.

Merced credits her passion for social impact work and her longstanding career in community health to her first job in medical school as an outreach worker, what she views as her “bootcamp” to SDoH.

“I learned early on the barriers to care, the effects of housing on health, the lack of job with insurance, issues with health literacy, violence in communities,” Merced told RISE. “But the most important thing I learned is our communities have assets—they have hopes, they want to do better, they want to be healthy. There are so many possibilities for them to do better for themselves and their families.”

Through all she does, Merced strives to serve as a trusted face within the community. “People trust people, they don’t trust buildings,” she said. “I will always look at this community with hope. They want to do better, and we have to go out there and fulfill our promises.”