It’s no secret that men are, in general, less likely than women to access preventive health care services. This spans men of all ages. Chronic health conditions like elevated cholesterol levels, physical inactivity, smoking, or chronic diseases like diabetes put people at higher risks for all types of heart disease.
February was American Heart Month, and the Office of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (OCDPHP) initiated a pilot program to tackle a key heart disease risk factor: high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, 45 percent of non-Hispanic black men have high blood pressure. In addition, they also have an increased risk of stroke and 44 percent of non-Hispanic black men are diagnosed with some form of cardiovascular disease.
Why the barbershop and not the doctor’s office?
“The barbershop is a pillar in the African American community,” said Amineh Harvey, a health educator in the Southern Nevada Health District’s OCDPHP. “It’s a place where men gather to talk about anything and everything. I saw this as an outreach and education opportunity to provide information to them about their heart health.” The barbershop is more than just a barbershop. It is a place where men, well, let their hair down. Utilizing barbershops as a vehicle to provide information to African American men is an opportunity to visit them where they are and where they are comfortable.
Barbers play a vital role in the community. The personal connection and trust between the barber and the client can help influence positive health behavior change. Ultimately, the barbershops have the power to build a healthier community and empower black men to take control of their health.
Harvey reached out to a dozen or more shops and was able to make arrangements to have Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) members and herself visit three shops once per week throughout the month. “I provided ‘blood pressure 101’ training to the barbers and shared ways to help them encourage their clients to get their blood pressure taken and promote free blood pressure screenings, education, and resources that are available to all clients.” The program will continue through the end of April and Harvey is hoping to add additional shops. By mid-February, 42 individuals had their blood pressure screened and were provided education at the barbershops. The pilot project’s goal is to provide the service to 75 individuals.
MRC members are health care workers who volunteer with the Southern Nevada Health District. When a barbershop client has elevated or high blood pressure readings, Harvey and the MRC volunteers can immediately provide resources to get the clients set up with health care services. She has partnered with Nevada Health Centers as a resource and follow up care provider.
“We have found barbershop clients who believe they have high blood pressure, who actually don’t but still are not involved in a medical home or have other risk factors like smoking. We have found men who have high blood pressure, and we can counsel them about the additional health risks that high blood pressure can cause,” she added. Her goal is to provide the information to clients and show them how important it is to track their readings. “We give them the information so they can take it with them to their health care provider and begin to reduce their risks.”