Rosselló Designated former UPR Medical Sciences Chancellor as Health Secretary
SAN JUAN – Today governor-elect Ricardo Rosselló Nevares appointed Rafael Rodríguez Mercado, former president of the Medical Sciences Campus (RCM by its Spanish acronym) of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) as Secretary of Health.
Rodríguez Mercado was chancellor when Rosselló Nevares was appointed RCM assistant professor in 2012, a designation that was harshly criticized by various sectors of academia for allegedly being a “tailor-made” position for the now-elected governor and having been made over a handful of professors who had been waiting for their tenure for years. In 2014, Rosselló Nevares resigned from his position at the UPR.
“There is no conflict of interest,” Rosselló replied when asked if the appointment was not a kind of gift to the former chancellor who handled his confirmation at the UPR. “It is important to point out to the people of Puerto Rico that my designation was one made by my peers. In the university system, various professors are the ones in charge of evaluations. I was unanimously evaluated and my credentials were approved to become a professor. After that, I began to get acquainted with Dr. Rodríguez Mercado’s work and abilities,” he explained.
“When Dr. Ricardo Rosselló approached us” in 2012, “we saw the opportunity” to develop “a stem cell program” at the RCM, Rodríguez Mercado said.
“At that time, only [Mayagüez’s Campus] was beginning to conduct stem cell studies in part of the lab, but we needed a person in Medical Sciences, where that research could be extrapolated to patients, and this opened an opportunity for us to hire Dr. Ricardo Rosselló,” the designated Health secretary said.
However, the stem cell research for which Rosselló was hired was never completed since he resigned in 2014. After his resignation, “he continued to give classes ad honorem, without pay, so students wouldn’t lose their year,” said the doctor, who has also been linked to CRECE-21 program appointments at the RCM.
At least three former UPR chancellors have been accused of embezzling public funds from the CRECE-21 program. Rodríguez Mercado was who appointed Enrique Santiago, the director of CRECE-21 at the RCM who was later sued for the alleged appropriation of $34,515.
Rodríguez Mercado said he would continue his neurosurgery practice, adding, “I cannot sacrifice the health of the people just because I hold this position.”
Regarding his work at the Health Department, he said he would seek to improve medical malpractice laws as well as obtain incentives to prevent the island’s medical class from emigrating abroad.
Rosselló appoints other cabinet members
The governor-elect announced the appointment of Michael Pierluisi Rojo as secretary of the Department of Consumer Affairs (DACO by its Spanish acronym).
He also designated Suzanne Roig as administrator of the Mental Health & Anti-addiction Services Administration (ASSMCA by its Spanish acronym) and two La Fortaleza advisers, attorney Ángel “Manolo” Martin Landón as legislative affairs adviser and attorney Tatiana Cintrón as an appointments adviser. Rossy Santiago was appointed director of the Central Communications Office (OCC by its Spanish initials).
During the announcement, held in the former San Juan casino, several UPR representatives were present, including Norman Maldonado and José Saldaña. Víctor Ramos, president of the Surgeons and Physicians Association, whose name was mentioned as a possible candidate for the secretary of Health, was also among those present at the event, as was former Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló.