USF names Linda Merrell the 2017 Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health

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On April 5, Linda Merrell, AS, RN, BIS, Hon. DH joined a select group of professionals as the 2017 Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health in a ceremony at the USF College of Public Health.

Initiated by USF in 1988, nominations are solicited from public health practitioners across the state. The COPH bestows the award each year to a woman whose career accomplishments and leadership contribute significantly to the field of public health in Florida.

A health and human services advocate, Merrell has more than 40 years of experience, both as a volunteer and professional, beginning with a nursing career at Yale New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Conn.

Introducing Merrell, COPH Dean Donna Petersen said, “In reading about our honoree this year, I am convinced that she has been fanning the flames of the children’s health fire her entire life. In this point in our nation’s history when there may be nothing more important than standing up and speaking out, our awardee is a stellar role model to each and every one of us.”

COPH Dean Donna Petersen awarding Linda Merrell the 2017 Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health (Photo by Vjollca Hysenlika).

COPH Dean Donna Petersen awarding Linda Merrell the 2017 Florida Outstanding Woman in Public Health (Photo by Vjollca Hysenlika).

“I’m glad Dean Petersen mentioned fire, I have another word for it— advocacy. We really need to continue the work that is not done, and there’s a lot of it that needs to be done,” Merrell said. “We have some difficult times ahead of us and we all need to come together and be advocates, not just for our children but for our community and world.”

A catalyst for health, Merrell has led countless local and state efforts ranging from creation and expansion of access to health care for children under Florida’s KidCare program, to working to ensure the best and broadest coverage of health care for Florida’s children in the state’s Medicaid program.

Since the 1970s, Merrell has served as a paid and unpaid lobbyist in Tallahassee, Fla. and Washington, D.C. for children’s health and other public health issues. Additionally, she was the coordinator of the Florida Governor’s Constituency for Children, served on the board of the Developmental Disabilities Council and has been a long-time participant on her region’s Health Planning Council.

“I have known and worked with Linda Merrell for more than forty years and have witnessed her advocacy for children, children’s health, the elderly and the disabled. Her effective and heartfelt fight has made a difference. When we recognize Linda, we are really acknowledging the many volunteers who sacrifice and take a stand for the good of others. On behalf of all the thousand Linda has helped over the years we thank her sincerely,” said Samuel P. Bell, III, former Florida representative and USF COPH founder.

She is co-founder of Florida CHAIN, a statewide consumer health advocacy organization dedicated to improving the health of all Floridians by promoting access to affordable, quality health care. A member of the Florida Medical Association Alliance, Merrell served as county president when it was known as the Women’s Medical Alliance.

Linda Merrell surrounded by family and friends after the awards ceremony at the COPH (Photo by Vjollca Hysenlika).

Linda Merrell surrounded by family and friends after the awards ceremony at the COPH (Photo by Vjollca Hysenlika).

Merrell also co-founded the Florida Child Health Coalition, which subsequently became a bedrock of support for the Children’s Movement of Florida and the Florida KidsWell project funded by the Atlantic Philanthropy. She has worked with community-based care organizations, Healthy Start Coalitions, children’s hospitals and child advocates across the state on a myriad of programs such as Early Steps and Healthy Start.

Merrell graduated from Lassell College with an associate of science and a bachelor of science in nursing. She later earned a bachelor’s degree in independent studies from the University of South Florida. Stetson University also presented her with an honorary doctorate in humanities.

“We have a lot of work to do everybody, but I think we’ll be able to pull it together,” Merrell said.

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health

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