How barber shops are combatting high blood pressure in South Dallas

News & Innovation

by Steve Jacob

Apr 17, 2019

Gerard Claiborne — also known as “Big G Da Barber” — has an ambition and a vision for barber, beauty and nail shops that extends well beyond grooming. He believes barbers and beauticians should serve as healthcare “second responders” who can perform first aid, CPR and critical health screenings for their customers.

Gerard works a barbershop in South Dallas where, in addition to providing his customers with a professional cut, he also offers to check their blood pressure.

“It’s important that healthcare transitions out of the four walls of the clinic. We have to adjust care upriver before it leads to catastrophic (cardiovascular) events that change lives forever.” —Dr. Benjamin McKinney

His efforts are part of the Healthy Heart Healthy Hair program operated through the Baylor Scott & White HealthTexas Provider Network’s CitySquare Community Health Clinic. CitySquare, previously named Central Dallas Ministries, has a 53,000 square-foot campus at the corner of Malcolm X Boulevard and I-30. It also houses a food pantry and workforce training department.  

Gerard said most of his customers take him up on his offer for a blood pressure screening if they haven’t been checked elsewhere recently. His regular customers often get checked after every appointment, doubling their haircuts as a health check-up.

“I want to help the community,” Gerard said. “African-Americans are often apprehensive about going to the hospital to seek medical help. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere here (in the shop). You’re not going to get the ‘heebee jeebees.’”

Related: Addressing the social determinants of health

By taking health screenings out of the hospital, Gerard and the other barbers who participate in the program are helping care for people who may not otherwise have a blood pressure screening. Not everyone goes to the doctor regularly, but everyone gets a haircut.

Gerard said he has referred several customers to the clinic for treatment. He said it’s as simple as telling them, “‘Dude, you need to get to a doctor and they’ll help you out.’“

Johnrice (JR) Newton, RN, CitySquare community health nurse, said she and nursing students canvassed 60 barber shops in the 75215 and 75210 zip codes. She talked to clinic doctors about training barbers and beauticians to check their clients’ blood pressure. Together, they met with shop owners about screening their customers as a way to improve the health of individuals in their communities.

Newton has been around barbershops most of her life. Her mother was a barber and her son is a barber in Lewisville. She knows how integral barbers can be in people’s daily lives.

“We’re trying to change the culture so that screening is something they automatically do when they get their own shops.” —Johnrice (JR) Newton, RN

“Having been around barbershops, I know the culture,” she said. “It’s a laid-back situation, it’s not invasive and patrons trust their barbers and beauticians.”

Related: South Dallas barbers build bridge to better health

Eight barbershops currently participate in the program, as well as students at Graham’s Barber College.

“The students see the value of the program,” Newton said. “We’re trying to change the culture so that screening is something they automatically do when they get their own shops.”

Family medicine physicians Benjamin McKinney and Garrett Schwab practice at the CitySquare clinic and actively care for patients considered “high risk.” Of the nearly 300 men who left their personal information at the barbershops, about 28 percent had high blood pressure. The doctors call each of these men to encourage them to seek medical attention. They either establish them as CitySquare clinic patients, urge them to reach out to their established primary care physician, or connect them with a different clinic because of zip code or insurance restrictions.

“Several who have gone through our process who haven’t seen a doctor in years now have blood pressure that’s 40-50 points lower,” Dr. McKinney said. “It’s important that healthcare transitions out of the four walls of the clinic. We have to adjust care upriver before it leads to catastrophic (cardiovascular) events that change lives forever.”

Sarah Samaan, MD, cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White The Heart Hospital – Plano, said many men avoid doctors and may not put the same trust in medical professionals as they do in their barbers.

Related: Bridging the gap between healthcare and faith

“The program is so intriguing,” she said. “It brings the care to the people rather than expecting them to seek out care. If your high blood pressure is identified and treated, you avoid strokes, heart attacks and congestive heart failure.”

By advocating for their customers’ health and wellbeing, Gerard and his fellow “second responder” barbers are fighting for healthier communities. As chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease continue to impact larger and larger populations, touchpoints like these are crucial to take healthcare outside the hospital walls and into the daily lives of those who need it most.

Discover how community initiatives like this are transforming communities, one life at a time.

About the Author

Steve is a senior marketing and public relations consultant for Baylor Scott & White Health. He spent nearly four decades in newspaper and magazine editorial and business management and is the author of two books on healthcare reform. He was also the founding editor of D Magazine's D Healthcare Daily.

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