Breaking down barriers
Photo by Ashley Barnas March 09, 2022
Minor-Brown joins UD’s School of Nursing with a goal of increasing diversity, cultural competency
Melissa Minor-Brown distinctly remembers the moment that propelled her to run for her office. She was working in health care and one of her patients—a man experiencing homelessness — died because he could not afford life-saving medication.
“They denied it because they wanted him to trial all these different medications first, and I just thought 'How can you force this man to take two or three pills multiple times a day for his scattered schizophrenia, when there’s an injection out there that works – all because of an extra $2?'
“We could have saved his life but because of these preventable barriers, we lost another person. So, I thought—'Who’s going to be the voice for this population?’”
That was the defining moment that inspired Minor-Brown to run for state representative. She was elected as the Democratic representative for District 17, which encompasses the New Castle-area, in 2018.
“I cried my eyes out,” she said. “I didn’t have this huge stump speech on how I was going to save the world. I had no political experience at all — nobody even knew who I was — I just knocked on people’s doors and said: ‘Listen, I’m not a politician. I’m a nurse. My patient died. I’m tired of complaining. These things are driving me crazy in health care, and I want to change these things, and I need to do it now.’”
Now, Minor-Brown continues her work to break down barriers both in government and in education in her new role at the University of Delaware. She started in 2022 as the clinical coordinator for graduate services within the School of Nursing (SON) in the College of Health Sciences. She’ll specifically be working to build bridges and expand community partnerships to increase diversity and cultural competency among students.
“There is a perception in the community when it comes to University of Delaware of being an institution that doesn’t have much diversity,” she said. “My goal is to dispel that or try to change that by creating relationships with community organizations, with some of the grassroots organizations that are working in some our minority and low-income communities, to get our students into those areas.”
She pointed to the Black maternal health crisis and infant mortality epidemic, a preventable reality, that UD nursing students need to learn how to combat.
“It’s important for our nonminority students to get that experience out in the community in areas where they wouldn’t typically go to work with a population of people they wouldn’t typically work with so that they can get that cultural competency early on,” she said. “By leveraging these relationships with the University and with community organizations in those areas, it allows for us to showcase what we’re doing here at the University. That will then help with recruitment and expansion of preceptorships for our students.”
In less than two months on the job, she’s already opened up doors to new preceptorships with The Life Health Center, which created the first elementary wellness center at Eisenberg Elementary School in Wilmington.
“They are more than willing to bring our students through their wellness centers for community, for behavioral health and into their primary care clinic for women's health and pediatrics. So, I'm excited about that, because they want to work with us on the undergraduate and graduate levels,” she said.
Her second phone call was to the Delaware Department of Correction, where she believes UD SON students could make a difference in improving health care for men and women behind bars.
“I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate a correctional piece in the curriculum so they can get a really thorough understanding of what to expect when going into corrections,” she said.
SON students may soon have opportunities to work with a midwife at the Delores J. Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, in the prison system’s primary care and behavioral health clinics, or infirmaries.
“I think it’s important for our students to get that now so when they’re out on their own, they will have those experiences under their belt, which will, in turn, increase the cultural competency piece. Especially with corrections — we need good people working in the Department of Correction, who understand how to address a situation holistically and understand that behavior,” Minor-Brown said.
Minor-Brown was a single mom relying on state benefits as she sought to become a nursing assistant.
“What made me further my education was because I saw all the barriers that existed — not just for myself — but for my colleagues and the people that we cared for,” she said.
She never felt as though she’d become free from the, at times uplifting but more so shackling, confines of state assistance.
“When they say the system is designed to keep you down — that is so true.”
Every time she worked overtime, so she could buy Christmas gifts for her daughter, it would trigger a Section 8 rent increase or an inability to obtain utilities assistance.
“Since I was working, they told me, they couldn’t help me. I literally quit my job the next day and decided to go back to school and further my education,” she said. “I wanted to beat the odds.”
She became a licensed practical nurse and then went back to school to get her associate degree in registered nursing, and ultimately her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“I just felt like not enough people take a holistic approach to health care and overall, just improving the quality of life for people. It’s not just healthcare. It’s all interconnected — it’s environment, it’s air, it’s water, it’s mental health, it’s access to opportunity — and being someone who was on the opposite end of that, I wanted to be in a space where I could contribute to that.”
Soon, she’ll be introducing new legislation called the Momnibus. The package of eight bills focuses on maternal health and was inspired by her own experience, first as an 18-year-old pregnant Black woman, who then realized not much had changed when she became pregnant at age 30 as a registered nurse.
“Both times, going through a pregnancy, I experienced the same issues, the same bias, the same barriers, the same negligence,” she said. “I just found myself complaining about so many things. I felt like there were barriers there for no reason. So many things were fixable — if we could just change one little thing, it could improve the quality of life for a whole population of people. So, I thought ‘I’ll just change the laws myself.’”
Minor-Brown’s Momnibus will include measures that aim to decrease infant mortality rates by targeting Medicaid to expand the coverage to mothers one-year postpartum and allow for doula coverage.
“This is huge; this is a nationwide epidemic that is only being talked about and not really being addressed,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do here in Delaware.”
First as a nurse, and now as a state lawmaker and at UD, Minor-Brown said she’s reached a pivotal intersection, where her contributions can truly make a difference in people’s overall quality of life.
“It's important to understand the role that politics plays in health care and the advancement of the nursing profession. In my role as nurse, politician, and my work with the SON, I plan to ensure that we're a few steps ahead on how the profession is evolving nationally so that we can advance the profession in Delaware. This, in turn, greatly improves care delivery and access which will improve the quality of life of Delawareans.”
Learn more about how Women's History Month is being celebrated at UD.