- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - For African American men, a barber shop has always been more than a place for a haircut and a shave. It’s a comfortable public forum to gather and talk about what’s going on in their community and lives.

Recognizing that, a new program has added a blood pressure test to the list of services men can get at Competitive Edge Barbershop.

The new initiative from Decatur Memorial Hospital is called “A Shave, a Haircut and a Blood Pressure Test” and focuses on preventing high blood pressure in African American men. DMH nurse Karen Schneller mirrored the community outreach program after one on the East Coast that targeted barbershops and the hundreds of men who visit it weekly.

“It’s more than a place that you come for a haircut,” Schneller said. “It’s a natural fit.”

The program began at the end of April, just in time for May’s National Stroke Awareness Month. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. with 795,000 people affected annually, but black men are twice as likely to have a fatal stroke than Caucasians, according to the American Stroke Association.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure, or hypertension, is the leading cause of a stroke and more than 40 percent of African Americans have high blood pressure.

The seven barbers at Competitive Edge, including owner Shon Allen, have been trained to take their clients’ blood pressure by hand after cutting their hair. The number is written down at every visit and the barbers note an abnormal reading and suggest a visit to the doctor.

“I was ecstatic about it,” Allen said about when he was asked to be the first site for the program.

While automatic blood pressure machines are readily available at pharmacies, Schneller said the ongoing relationship between a man and his barber holds him accountable. The relaxed atmosphere also reduces the possibility of a false high number produced at the doctor’s office, known as the “white coat effect.”

“When working in a relaxed setting, it should be fairly consistent,” Schneller said.

DMH Foundation provided the stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs and Schneller trained the barbers how to take a reading by hand over several days. Barbers practicing medicine isn’t new. Schneller pointed out that several hundred years ago barbers served dual roles as a surgeon and dentist and the traditional twisted red and white barber’s pole has bloody origins.

“Barbers are very good with their hands, so we learned in a couple afternoons,” she said.

As an added incentive if a client brings back their blood pressure card signed by their doctor, they get a free haircut. Allen said the extra perk is worth it.

“I want my clients to be healthy so they could come back for a haircut,” he said.

Elijah Kinmon, 21, is a regular at Competitive Edge. He came in to get his haircut several weeks into the program and also had his blood pressure taken there for the first time.

“It’s so important to keep track of your own health,” Kinmon said.

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, http://bit.ly/1Pmk1gd

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Information from: Herald & Review, http://www.herald-review.com

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