Business First: Barber offers more than a cut and a shave

July 28, 2017, 12:12am EDT

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Tracey Drury Reporter Buffalo Business First

For 45 years, Howard Ivey has been cutting hair in Niagara Falls. And for the last 17, customers of Howard Hair Studio also might have their blood pressure checked while sitting in his chair.

Ivey, 65, checks his own pressure regularly and is diligent about taking his blood pressure medication at the Cleveland Avenue shop.

Tony Bostick, a customer for 30 years, gets a trim and a blood pressure reading in the barber’s chair. Shop owner Howard Ivey is part of the Barber and beauty shop initiative which promotes screenings for hypertension and cardio vascular disease.

Jim Courtney

“(Hypertension) is a silent killer so you can’t take it for granted,” he said. “A lot of these people, I’ve been cutting their hair for years and I know when something’s wrong with them.”

The practice started after Ivey noticed some customers sweating profusely, even in the winter months. Familiar with the signs and symptoms of hypertension, he inquired if they had taken their pressure lately or if they took medication.

Several times he recommended a trip to the doctor or even the emergency room. Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center is five blocks away and the Community Health Center of Niagara clinic is just three blocks. Several times, the customers came back and thanked him after following his advice.

“The problem is getting them to go to the doctor because they are afraid of bad news, but I explain to them that bad news is good news when you catch it in time to correct it,” Ivey said.

He has a bit more help now.

Ivey is among a handful of barbers and salons in Niagara Falls participating in the Barber & Beauty Shop Initiative sponsored by Millennium Collaborative Care in partnership with Community Health Center of Niagara and Bethany Missionary Baptist Church.

A half-dozen shops now offer free, self-monitored blood pressure screening along with information about health assessments.

Michele Mercer, chief clinical integration officer at Millennium, said the program focuses on high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease indicators. Plans call for providing blood pressure cuffs to expand to additional shops.

And in a similar effort targeting the same demographic, the P2 Collaborative began a diabetes-prevention program with local impact grant funding from the state. The program was modeled after a similar program by the American Heart Association in Monroe County that trained barbers in how to measure blood pressure.

“Sometimes the best people to deliver health information are the ones already in the community,” said Pam Fox, program coordinator at P2.

She is creating a brochure to teach people about how diabetes develops and affects the body and to promote prevention programs offered by the Niagara County Department of Health.

Ivey said the programs are a natural for barbers, who historically played a major role in health care by doing everything from removing bullets to pulling teeth. Today he serves as an unofficial psychologist for clients.

“I’m concerned with all of my customers,” he said. “If you cut long enough and know your customers, it comes to you naturally.”

Tracey Drury covers health/medical and nonprofits

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