Huntington, W.Va. – Rachel Merino, Behavioral Health and Dentistry Operations Administrator at Valley Health Systems, Inc., on March 30 was among 12 recipients from across the country recognized with the Geiger Gibson Emerging Leader Award at a ceremony held during the 2019 National Association of Community Health Centers Policy and Issues Forum in Washington, D.C.
“It is rare to identify an individual who has the wisdom, maturity, intelligence and capabilities to work in a complex health care environment – at a young age of 26,” said Steven Shattls, Valley Health President and CEO. “Rachel’s ability to work with and lead the team that has developed such a large behavioral health and substance use disorder program has been critical in allowing Valley Health to have an impact on a population with a great need for these services in our region. Rachel being named an “emerging leader” by the prestigious Geiger – Gibson program at George Washington University makes us so very proud!”
Merino commented about the award, “I feel honored to have received this award. The experience of being in a room with so many other people who share the same mission of meeting the healthcare needs of their communities was powerful and something I will never forget.”
Merino was hired by Valley Health in September 2016 as the Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) program coordinator. In January 2017 she was promoted to administrator of Behavioral Health Operations, and in fall of 2018 her duties were further expanded to include dentistry services. It is a role that encompasses working with 50 behavioral health and dental providers at 15 locations.
During Merino’s tenure, 22 new behavioral health providers have joined Valley Health, and the organization’s substance use disorder treatment program patient volume has tripled. Merino has also played an instrumental role for Valley Health in fostering community partnerships and collaborative projects, such as PROACT, with the local hospitals, Marshall Health, Thomas Health and Recovery Point.
“The unique thing about my role at Valley Health, and what I really love about my job, is that it is not solely focused on healthcare administration,” Merino said. “It also has a public health component. I have a passion for policy and public health, especially for vulnerable and underserved communities. That, coupled with the fact that I work with others who share my strong belief in providing holistic care to patients, makes working at Valley Health very special. Here, we place equal importance on mental and physical health.”
Merino was born in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in a suburb near Portland, Oregon. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Public Health degree from Oregon State University in 2014 and completed a Master of Science in Healthcare Administration degree in 2017 from Marshall University.
Merino said Huntington has been a welcoming place to her. “I’ve learned that this is a close-knit community and a place where you can have a great sense of belonging. People seem to be interested in and care about others here, and that’s why I like it so much.”
Each year, the Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health in Washington, D.C., honors young professionals from across the country who are making significant impacts to community health and health centers. The winners are selected from a competitive pool of candidates from across the nation, who are nominated for the significant contributions they make in their communities and who exemplify the mission and vision of Drs. H. Jack Geiger and Count Gibson, pioneers for community health and human rights.
This year’s 12 award recipients represent both large and small population centers and have a wide range of titles and responsibilities. In addition to West Virginia, the winners are from New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, California, Pennsylvania and Illinois.