Heart and Vascular

Talk of the Shop: Innovative Program Utilizes Barbers and Beauticians to Start Important Health Conversations

Feb 6 2023

In the Black community, the beauty parlor and the barbershop have historical and cultural significance, making them more than just a place to have your hair cut. And now, thanks to a partnership between our Greenville market and the American Heart Association (AHA), a barber or beautician can now be an important extension of your health care team.

“The health risks and the health disparities faced by Black communities make accurate health information and access to care vital,” Brandy McMahand, a nurse case manager with our Healthy Outcomes program, shares. “Those health risks include higher rates in the Black community of heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes and HIV/AIDS. These concerns are magnified further by health disparities, those preventable differences that place a higher health burden and obstacles on individuals due to race, gender or income.”

To tackle health misinformation as well as start potentially life-saving conversations, our Greenville team members looked to the area’s barbershops and beauty parlors.

From there, Beauty and Barbershop Talks (BBT) began in the summer of 2022.

“With BBT, we recruited area beauticians and barbers to see if they would help us in reaching people where they are,” Brandy explains. “We trained them on how to start health conversations in their shops, how to recognize certain conditions and even how to take blood pressures as well as know what those numbers mean.”

For the silent killer of high blood pressure, cuffs were provided to BBT’s participating partners for use in their shops. Timothy “Drez” Shell, owner of Uptown Barber Shop, said it’s not unusual for a client to come in not for a cut, but to check their blood pressure. Sometimes, Drez takes the blood pressures, but often clients self-check or check one another. In fact, Drez sees the shop as the perfect spot for blood pressure readings.

“Your body and mind can already be anxious when you’re going to a doctor,” he explains. “The barbershop is a universal place where men come to sit and relax.”

Sean Dogan, our director of community health in Greenville as well as a pastor for 25 years at Long Branch Baptist Church, helped to spearhead the BBT program.

“When you look at where people gather, where people have fellowship and communicate, people spend time at church, and they spend time getting their hair done,” Sean says. “For the African American community, it’s the place to be. So, we arm them with the correct information so that when they hear false information they can counter it.”

Sean also agrees with Drez’s assessment of the shop as a relaxing place where conversations happen with ease.

“The first Black doctor in Greenville had to get his hair cut, but so did the Black janitor,” Sean explains. “It was a place where everyone came, and everyone was equal.”

Currently, the BBT program has approximately 20 participating beauty parlors and barbershops. In the program’s first four months, each shop averaged more than 100 blood pressure readings. Sean credits Brandy’s tenacity for this early success.

“Brandy is a star when it comes to being a nurse educator and leading the Barbers and Beauticians Talks,” he adds.

In fact, it was Brandy’s connection to Drez that led to Uptown Barber Shop’s participation in the program.

“We knew each other from school, so when Brandy stopped in and asked if I wanted to be a part of it, I understood what she was wanting to do,” he says.

Drez notes that because of BBT he’s had several clients identify a problem thanks to the placement of the blood pressure cuff in the shop. In his 12 years of owning the shop, health has always been a major topic of conversation, so it doesn’t take a push to bring it up. He knows the right time to urge clients to take their blood pressure.

“You’re serving people for so many years, so you can tell when someone’s health isn’t right,” he explains. “Sometimes it’s as easy as saying ‘man, have you checked your blood pressure lately?’”

Brandy shares that each participating shop is provided a binder with educational information, as well as instructions for follow-ups.

“We knew it was important to not just identify a problem, but also to address it,” she says. “It’s why the binder has provider information to both our health care system and others. We wanted everyone to know the low- and no-cost care options where they can get further attention if they have a problem.”

If you’re a barber or beautician in the Greenville, S.C. area looking to impact change and increase healthy outcomes in the African American community, call nurse Brandy at 864-241-5116 to find out how you can join our Beauty and Barbershop Talks program.

Learn about the heart and vascular care services we provide at Mercy Health.

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