By Max Warfield Special to Sunday Lifestyles
James Neiss /Staff photographer Master Barber Howard Ivey of Howard’s Hair Studio for Men, cuts his long-time client Stacey Lewis Jr’s hair.
JAMES NEISS – Ivey also offers free blood pressure testing and information about diabetes for his customers.
Much like centuries ago, when barbers were surgeons and healers, a trip to six Niagara hair cutters and stylists can help make patrons healthier these days.
Since July 1, a group of six city barbers and beauticians has become champions for the well being of their clients through a program that helps them provide an important health service and share health information.
“B&B Health Stop” is a program designed to encourage wellness in places where intimate conversation is often exchanged during clips and curls.
A barber or beauty shop is a “friendly, trusted environment, one where sensitive subjects are spoken of freely,” said Ebony Patterson-White of Millennium Collaborative Care, one of 25 performing provider systems launched by New York State to drive improvements in the delivery of health care to Medicaid clients.
“After observing a similar program’s successful launch in Rochester, we reached out to barbers and beauticians in Niagara Falls, then taught them how to initiate the conversation,” she said. “We also provided them with informational brochures.”
She explained how patrons without coverage can fill out information cards and place them in confidential drop boxes given to the shops. “The cards are checked privately later, and we show those interested how to set up coverage. Howard Ivey was key in Niagara Falls,” she said.
Ivey, who has been cutting hair for 40 years at Harold’s Hair Salon for Men on Cleveland Avenue, was already concerned about his customers’ health. “When they approached me, I told them I already used a blood pressure cuff in my shop,” Ivey said. “I have my own health issues, so when I hear guys talk about what’s going on with them, I want to help. I figure we’re in this thing together.”
Millennium — in collaboration Community Health Center of Niagara, a federally qualified health center at 2715 Highland Ave. which provides care to low-income patients — also provided self-monitoring blood pressure cuffs to the six local shops, to expand this idea.
“I give them a card to log their numbers, and then as time goes on, they will notice any changes,” Ivey explained. “One day, I sent a young man to the hospital where they kept him under observation. Most of the guys know me; if not, I just tell them. It’s check-up day!”
P2 Collaborative, another Western New York health initiative, also approached local barbershops this year on a parallel yet separate path from Millennium.
Both groups share the same goal: educate and bring people together.
A restructuring of health care delivery is underway throughout the state, with the goal of a reduction in avoidable hospital use by 25 percent over five years. The collaborative groups partner with physicians, healthcare providers and community-based organizations to increase awareness in the public and improve efficiency in the entire network. Community barber and beauty shops and churches have been tapped for their intimate and loyal relationships with potential patients.
The B & B Shop Initiative is presently active in six shops including Howard’s Hair Salon for Men. The other shops are: Nelson’s Hair Studio at 1326 Portage Road, Danny’s Salon and Crispy Cutz at 619 Pine Ave., McWilson’s House of Beauty at 1137 South Ave. and Sass at 1809 Main St. There are plans to expand the program to more locations.
“Barbershops hold a captive audience where candid conversations on daily health matters are routine,” Jessica Thomas of P2 Collaborative said. “One out of three Americans has pre-diabetes, and we work with state and national organizations to help prevent disease and promote good choices.
In May, P2 educated local barbers on health warning signs and provided them with pamphlets. “New York State Medicaid has prioritized prevention and lists reductions in chronic conditions, substance abuse, infections, along with upgrading maternity and mental health in its agenda. This collaboration fits in with these goals,” Thomas said.
“We designed the ‘I heard it at the barbershop!’ brochure and the advertising program. We bring information to apartment buildings and senior centers — anywhere we may suspect transportation difficulties. It’s about overcoming barriers to better health,” she added.
The Rev. Raymond Allen was instrumental in recruiting the barbers and stylists. As a 30-year-client of Howard’s Hair Salon, the minister from Bethany Missionary Baptist Church helped distribute flyers, some of which included his phone number.
“Many men do not like doctors and the bad news they may present,” Allen said. “But people are comfortable with their barber. It’s up to them to act on the health brochures and recommendations, but at least they have been given the information to make their own choices. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death.”
Program leaders say minorities suffer from many preventable diseases in disproportionate numbers, making the success of the education program more crucial. The Community Health Center of Niagara is usually the first stop recommended. Getting physician referrals can begin there, as well as prevention classes. They offer a free Diabetes Prevention Program in 16 one-hour weekly sessions led by trained lifestyle coaches. They also address prevention of other maladies such as heart disease and cancer.
Max Warfield is an author and frequent contributor to the Niagara Gazette