As a child from Puerto Rico growing up in a rough New Jersey neighborhood, Roberto Muñiz never dreamed he would one day be CEO of a major senior health system and lead one of the nation’s largest senior advocacy organizations.
“I think I’m one of the luckiest persons in the world,” says Muñiz, president and CEO of New Jersey-based Parker Health Group and newly named board chair of LeadingAge.
When Muñiz, one of 14 children, was a teenager, his parents separated and his mother brought her younger children to the US. Their neighborhood was run-down and crime-ridden, and the family lived in a small two-bedroom apartment. Many nights, he recalled, “all we had was bread and mayonnaise to eat.”
Muñiz’ mother also was in poor health, and he frequently took her to a local hospital for care. A pharmacy staff member who befriended him suggested Muñiz volunteer at the hospital. When he asked if he’d get paid, she told him that volunteers got a free meal after four hours of work. “That changed my life, becoming a volunteer in the hospital system,” he says.
He later got his first job as the pharmacy stock boy, and staff there encouraged him to attend college and even helped with his application to Rutgers University. He later became a nurse aide at the hospital and worked while attending college.
After graduating, he worked as an assistant administrator at a county-run hospital for long-term care and psychiatric patients, which sparked his interest in aging care.
“I could see how the elders were treated in that hospital, and I thought, ‘We can do better,’” he recalls.
Muñiz had worked for seven years as administrator at a senior home for retired actors and entertainment professionals, when he was approached by Parker Health. During his 25 years there, Parker has grown from two small nursing homes with 110 residents to an organization serving over 9,000 seniors.
Muñiz is credited with several innovations, including using the small-home model. In partnership with VNA Health Group, he also established the Parker Advanced Care Institute, which provides visiting physician services and palliative care to homebound, chronically ill seniors.
Muñiz is an advocate for the rights of the elderly, serving several state and national senior care organizations. At LeadingAge, he is responsible for serving over 5,000 nonprofit organizations.
Beyond work, he considers himself a “family guy.” His wife, Lily, is a sitting chief municipal judge in New Jersey. In their free time, they love spending time with their children and two grandchildren, and going to the beach or on vacation. Muñiz is also learning to play golf.
Since 2012, he has been an adjunct instructor at his alma mater, where he teaches geriatrics and management, hoping to inspire a new generation of leaders. Many have gone on to successful careers, including Megan Kovaltchouk, his chief of staff at Parker.
“I love to be able to develop new people into the field,” helping build their own dreams, he says.
1983 Earns bachelor’s degree in public health administration from Rutgers University
1989-1991 Serves as assistant hospital administrator at Meadowview Hospital in Secaucus, NJ
1990 Earns master’s in public administration
1991 Becomes licensed nursing home administrator
1991 Becomes administrator of the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, NJ
1998 Named president and CEO of Parker Health Group
2012-present Teaches part-time at Rutgers; helps create the Division of Geriatrics at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
2023 Becomes LeadingAge board chairman