Why is he having his blood pressure checked?
“Because the opportunity was there,” he said. “I’m actually here to get my hair cut.”
Elias was a truck driver. Now he’s a warehouse manager. He decided not to get vaccinated against COVID-19. But he made other changes and lowered his blood pressure.
“I started losing a lot of weight. I was almost 400 pounds and now I’m around 349. So I’ve been working out a lot,” he said. This included changing his diet, less soda, less bread, “just eat better”.
Her son, also named Adrian, flashed a big smile and enthusiastic thumbs up when asked if he was also having his blood pressure checked.
Colorado Black Health Collaborative hosts the Barber Shop and Salon screenings weekly.
Longtime Denver internist and primary care physician Dr. Terri Richardson smiled at the exchange.
She helped found the Colorado Black Health Collaborative. It is a community-based organization committed to improving the health and well-being of Black, African, and African-American communities in the state. It operates through collaborations and partnerships with community organizations, non-profit organizations, public organizations, private entities, and government agencies.
“It’s really fantastic that there are both people specifically reaching out to members of the black community in Colorado and specifically working to reach people where they are,” Dr. Tamaan Osborne-Roberts, family physician and the first person of color elected president of the Colorado Medical Society. “I think there’s a lot to be said for that.”
Every Saturday since 2012, volunteers give health screenings in salons or hair salons. The pandemic forced the program to take a two-year hiatus, but Richardson said he was back.
“We kind of relaunched the program in June.”
She said black communities have some of the highest rates of high blood pressure or hypertension. She described it as “a silent killer”, increasing the risk of a long list of problems including strokes and heart failure.
“It damages your ships. It affects your heart over time and you can end up in a lot of trouble,” Richardson said.
High blood pressure is a disease that can be treated with diet, exercise and medication. But first you have to detect it.
Blood pressure tests are an entry point, she said, they open the door to more health conversations.
Volunteers here also offered educational materials, information on COVID-19 vaccines and referral advice. But Richardson said it was a soft sell.
“We talk about lifestyle issues, but some people need medication on top of that, and we’re not trying to be their doctors, but we want to connect them,” said Richardson, who retired. last year after 34 years of medical studies. career serving some of the most diverse populations in the state, most recently with Kaiser Permanente.
Since its inception ten years ago, the program has screened more than 9,000 people for high blood pressure. Volunteers also handed out medical literature, brochures and health-focused giveaways like hand sanitizers, masks, test kits, pedometers and fidget spinners for stress.
In a business that gets a lot of foot traffic, having health screenings just makes sense, said salon owner Leeanda Robinson Bragg.
“Stylists and barbers, we’re everything, nurses, doctors, you know, psychologists, everything. So we hear everything,” she said. “And it’s just good to have them here to raise awareness. Awareness is everything.
She said the past two years have raised awareness of all kinds of health issues.
“With mental health, I think it’s only now that people feel more comfortable talking about it,” Robinson Bragg said.
Hosting volunteers in salons and barbershops helps build trust in a community that has been neglected and abused.
As she spoke, Robinson Bragg combed and cut Sha’Kai Swing’s locks, who nodded and said it was all about confidence.
“Hair is a very important thing, and I myself don’t let anyone else touch my hair,” she said.
Swing, who works in human resources, said that historically black Americans have had a mistrust or distrust of medical providers. But the health volunteers who come to her stylist’s salon help alleviate that.
“So I think it’s really good that they’re in these spaces and helping people in these communities who are so often left behind.”
A recent poll found that nearly six in 10 African Americans express complete or partial distrust of the nation’s healthcare system. Another showed it was exacerbated by a lack of black healthcare providers and negative interactions with the system.
Richardson said, “That’s really a reason we’re here, because we’re trusted partners and we’ve gotten to know these people and we just feel like they’re part of the family. They feel like we are part of their family and that makes a program what it really is.
And this kind of program is perhaps more critical than ever.
Recent data shows that life expectancy for all Coloradans has dropped sharply since the start of the pandemic, with black and Hispanic Coloradans not living as long as white residents.
Another customer, Camry Prince, 18, a receptionist, said she had caught COVID-19 three times and was now fully vaccinated. She is immunocompromised and said the pandemic has taught people a lot about self-care.
“So we had to learn how to grow and take care of ourselves in the comfort of our own home and within our community,” Prince said.
The program now works with 14 black hair salons and hair salons in Denver and Aurora, bringing health screenings directly to the community, meeting people where they are.
Dr Tamaan Osborne-Roberts, who is not involved in the program, said he thinks it is a promising example that deserves further community investment.
“I think we need more. And I think we need to see those kinds of efforts integrated. Reaching a given community should not be a revolutionary act. It should be something that government and private companies are looking to do naturally,” said Osborne-Roberts, who practices at Iora Health on South Federal in Denver. “I think it’s a great role model.”