At Champion’s Barbershop in northeast Portland men can get a “frohawk,” a razor shave, or a mustache trim. They can also get their blood pressure checked, thanks to a new health partnership called Cuts and Checks.
On the weekend, every chair at Champion’s is taken. Barbers slide their electric razors across men’s necks and chins with expert strokes. Jamaal Lane, the shop’s owner, smiles as he outlines a sharp sideburn with his razor.
“I take care of people,” he says. “I get people’s confidence back to where it should be.”
A small digital blood pressure monitor sits on a table in the corner of his shop. Lane has been trained to use it by the staff from the North by Northeast Community Health Center.
The clinic is hoping to use the frequently strong bond barbers and hairdressers have with their clients to educate people in the African-American community about the risk of high blood pressure.
The goal is to “target people who may not be comfortable going to the doctor, in a place where they can come and do that as often as they would like to,” Lane says.
Geneva’s Shear Perfection and Terrell Brandon Barbershop are also participating in the program.
The barbers are trained to recommend that clients see their doctor or, if they don’t have one, visit the community clinic if their blood pressure is above 140 over 90. For a blood pressure over 200, the barbers recommend people go to the emergency room immediately.
About 45 percent of African Americans have high blood pressure, which significantly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Sharretta Butcher, a community care manager for North By Northeast, created Cuts and Checks. Butcher says people who know they have a problem can do lots of things to bring their blood pressure down — finding the right medication, quitting smoking, and improving their diet.
But she struggled to get the message out in the African American community in Portland. She noticed that many of the people who attended health fairs and other outreach programs were already healthy.
“We wanted to reach folks who aren’t excited about their health,” she says.
For at least a few people, the program has been transformative.
“It saved me,” says Jason Washington, a lifelong northeast Portland resident.
Washington says he’s taken medication for his high blood pressure for about eight years. Then, he was laid off, lost his insurance, and ran out of medication. For months, he says he tried to sign up for the Oregon Health Plan at the unemployment office without success.
When he was getting his haircut at Terrell Brandon Barbershop, he ran into Butcher, who offered him a blood pressure check.
“It had shot back up, since I had been off medication for four months,” he says. “They signed me up for the Oregon Health Plan and got me my medication that day.”
Butcher calls high blood pressure “a silent killer,” and says she hopes Cuts and Checks will encourage people to be proactive.
“If I can reach 10 people a day on a Saturday, I’m happy,” she says. “That’s 10 less people I have to read about in the paper having a heart attack or stroke.”