Board spotlight: Melissa envisions equitable rural health care for everyone

Small Towns

Melissa Florell became aware of the Center growing up near the Center’s home office in Lyons, Nebraska. Though she now lives outside Kearney, Nebraska, with her family, Melissa’s connection with the Center spans most of her career. 

A passionate rural health care advocate, Melissa obtained her master’s degree in nursing management policy and leadership through Yale University. To complete that degree, she held an internship with the Center that focused on rural health policy. Not only did the internship help further her education, it also landed Melissa a position on the Center’s Advisory Board in 2010. And, in 2011, she was elected to the Center's Board of Directors.

Melissa is currently three-fourths of the way through her doctoral program, which focuses on health systems in rural health, and she also teaches at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The nurse says her background in the health care field makes a difference in how she approaches some of the topics the Board faces.

“Focusing on the accessibility and quality of rural health care has been my area of practice since I received my master’s,” she said. “That part of my background has always helped during Board meetings.”

Over the years, Melissa has seen Board issues evolve and adjust to fit the needs of rural Americans.

“Topics like sustainable agriculture and working on the farm bill have been consistently part of the Center’s work,” she said. “Recently, energy and climate change have come to the forefront, which is the biggest change I’ve seen since I started. Health care and rural access to health care continue to be a primary issue as well, especially after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and more recently with Medicaid expansion.”

Melissa says the Center’s Board meetings have adapted over the years too, and have become more accessible for those attending.

“When I first started, a meeting would take a day and a half, with travel time,” Melissa said. “Now, the use of technology has made it a lot easier for really busy people to become an active part of the Center.”

Though there have been changes during her time on the Board, Melissa says plenty of constants remain and act as an inspiration for her to continue the Center’s work.

“Even if I was tired and had to drive three hours after a Board meeting, I would always leave excited by the work being done,” she said. “Some of the most interesting and intelligent people I’ve met, I’ve met through being on the Board. It gives me hope that there’s always been this group who’s paying attention to the things I thought needed to be brought to the forefront.”

And, though rural health care is one of her top priorities, Melissa is passionate about all of the issues the Board faces, especially social justice, equity, and sustainable rural life.

“The Center is helping small family farms be competitive and rural communities be a viable part of the conversation,” she said. “Their work has always maintained focus on rural economic development and small business entrepreneurship. That’s why I continue giving my time to the Center.”

Moving forward, Melissa hopes to see the Center continue its focus on the topics that matter most to rural America and the people who call it home.

“We haven’t solved the problem of equitable health access in this country in any way, shape, or form,” said Melissa. “I would like to see that conversation shift from health care to overall health in a holistic sense. Being on the Board helps me move that idea in the right direction, and it's been a very rewarding experience. I'm glad I’ve been able to serve, and I hope to be able to do that for a long time in the future.”

Feature photo: Melissa Florell (center) attends a board meeting in September 2019 in West Point, Nebraska. | Photo by Rhea Landholm