Aug. 19, 1997
KALAMAZOO -- A haircut, a manicure and a blood pressure screening? It may sound unusual, but that's the regimen for a women's health care initiative involving Western Michigan University, the Black Nurses Association and the Mane Attraction, a beauty salon in Kalamazoo.
The brainchild of Dr. Bernardine M. Lacey, director of the WMU School of Nursing, the project is providing health services and health care information to women, paying special attention to issues facing African Americans. All of the services are offered at the local salon, which Lacey sees as an ideal place to reach women of all backgrounds.
"We know that women go to the beauty salon," Lacey says. "They may not go routinely or every month, but they do get there, even if they have to skimp and save in other ways. It cuts across all social and economic levels."
The salon initiative has found a groundswell of support since it got under way several month ago, according to Lacey. Recently, the group won a $10,000 grant from the John E. Fetzer Institute of Kalamazoo to fund special workshops and the development of culturally sensitive health promotion materials.
Describing the beauty salon as a parlor or living room, Lacey says it has proved to be a friendly, non-threatening environment unlike a clinical setting. She believes this lack of anxiety helps women relax and be more receptive to information.
"The beauty shop has historically been a place for women to talk about their joys and sorrows and pains and sufferings and I think that still holds true today," Lacey explains. "Women tell their beauticians a lot of things. They share information with them because this is a place where they feel cared for. We're just taking that concept a step further. It's a good place to talk about health."
In addition to blood pressure screenings, the beauty salon health care initiative offers educational programs on breast self-examinations, CPR training, reducing stress and healthy eating and cooking. Once a month, low-fat recipes featuring traditional African American fare are prepared for clients to sample.
A large portion of the services and the health care information is provided by area nurses or WMU nursing students. Lacey believes this presents an excellent opportunity for the students to learn to build relationships with the patients that are different than those that might be established in a hospital setting. A number of area health professionals also have taken an interest in the program and participate in the educational presentations.
Lacey emphasizes that the project is not prescriptive, but rather oriented toward health and wellness promotion. She says clients are continually surveyed to make sure the programs offered meet their specific needs. Information is also gathered about how clients view and manage their own health care and how providers can more effectively present health information.
Eventually, Lacey hopes to offer similar services in a Laundromat, viewing that as another place to reach women and their children.
"I think these are the places where information about health will be provided (in the future)," she says. "We can get information on how people manage their health to assist us as health providers begin to make different kinds of plans on what we should be doing and how we should be doing things to really make the information more meaningful to people."
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