National Black Nurses Association honors UMSL alumna with 40 and Under Award

by | Jul 16, 2019

The NBNA recognized Crystal Bailey for her prolific community outreach with the Black Nurses Association of Greater St. Louis.
College of Nursing alumna Crystal Bailey created the Breast Cancer Buddy program after noticing how many patients go through chemotherapy treatment alone (Photo by August Jennewein).

College of Nursing alumna Crystal Bailey created the Breast Cancer Buddy program after noticing how many patients go through chemotherapy treatment alone. (Photo by August Jennewein)

While accompanying her mother for chemotherapy treatments for esophageal cancer, Crystal Bailey was struck by how many people came alone.

After her mother passed, Bailey knew she had to do something.

“We noticed when people were there and didn’t have anybody with them,” the College of Nursing alumna said. “My daughter and I would go sit with them during chemotherapy, and then we started taking them little gifts and making them bags.”

Those first informal bags turned into a program, Breast Cancer Buddy, which operates under the umbrella of the Black Nurses Association of Greater St. Louis and has grown to benefit approximately 40 patients a year. Now, the two-time University of Missouri–St. Louis graduate is being honored for that program as well as her other community service efforts.

In June, the National Black Nurses Association announced it had selected Bailey as one of the 40 and Under Awardees. The NBNA will present her with the award during a ceremony July 27 at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel.

The award celebrates 17 NBNA members who “demonstrated excellence and innovation in their practice setting, in their NBNA chapters and in the communities they serve” while representing the vision and mission of the organization.

When Bailey learned she’d won the award, she was honored to be recognized and grateful for the exposure it would bring to the Breast Cancer Buddy program, which she runs with her daughter and a handful of volunteers.

Initially open to African American women diagnosed with breast cancer, Bailey quickly expanded her services to any women diagnosed with cancer. This year, she is planning to expand again to African American men and expects to change the program name accordingly.

Each bag costs Bailey around $100 to put together. Their contents vary but each includes several gift cards for food and restaurants as well as blankets, nightgowns that button up the front – ideal for patients who can’t lift their arms – and toiletries. Bailey accepts gift card donations as well as cash, which is tax-deductible thanks to the BNA – St. Louis.

“Every time I meet somebody, I think ‘Could they help?’” Bailey said. “I met this woman at a conference a few years ago, and I asked her if she could either donate some blankets for the bags or give me a little money and she said, ‘Oh I happen to have this money in my budget that I need to get rid of.’”

That woman was Shonta Chambers, who happened to be the executive vice president of health equity and community engagement for the Patient Advocate Foundation. Thanks to Chambers, PAF contributed $5,000 to the Breast Cancer Buddy program last year, which means more bags and greater outreach.

And that’s not the extent of Bailey’s involvement – community service and outreach take up almost every one of her evening and weekends.

That passion was already evident while she was at UMSL for her first bachelor’s degree – criminology and criminal justice. Initially interested in becoming an FBI agent, Bailey switched to nursing when both her parents were diagnosed with cancer.

“The nurses in the hospital were absolutely the best,” Bailey said. “They took care of my entire family, and I thought maybe I should go back.”

She earned an associate degree in nursing at St. Louis Community College – Forest Park before graduating from UMSL’s RN to BSN Program in 2018. Fellow BNA-St. Louis member and UMSL Associate Professor Wilma Calvert encouraged Bailey to go for her BSN and proved to be a valuable mentor while in school.

“Ms. Bailey wove her real-world, personal experiences into class, which added a richness and depth to class,” Calvert said. “She has been engaged in the community through the Black Nurses Association of Greater St. Louis, many times initiating and leading various community outreaches, such as those during Men’s Health Month. She is not afraid to try something new if it will benefit the community. She is not afraid to fail. You only learn by doing, by trying, and she demonstrates that.”

Last year, Bailey used her BSN to achieve her goal to move into management and, in October, began working at People’s Health Centers as a nurse leader for internal medicine, where she especially enjoys patient education.

But that’s not the end of Bailey’s aspirations. She’s working on her MSN at Capella University and has a dream to open a facility providing comprehensive services for cancer patients that would include free lodging, counseling, medical equipment, transportation to appointments and more.

That long-term dream, her education and her community service efforts all stem from a drive to serve humanity.

“I like being able to heal people,” Bailey said. “I like being able to help them solve problems, like when people can’t afford their medications, I can give them resources, and I can help them if they don’t have food. I’m a nurse, but I do so much more. I listen to people and then they say they feel better, and if they have health problems and don’t have insurance, I can help them. I can be a resource for people.”

Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen