By Amy Kotlarz

Stylist and Community Health Educator Cassandra (Sandy) McCrea-June encourages her clients at Visions Hair Salon to keep tabs on their blood pressure and to make sure they see a physician if their numbers are high. McCrea-June is part of a community-wide effort to lower high blood pressure in Rochester, New York. (Photo by Brandon Vick Photograhy LLC)

When you go to Visions Beauty Salon in Rochester, Master Hair Professional Cassandra McCrea can style your hair—and tell you whether your blood pressure is high.

McCrea and several other stylists and barbers trained as Community Health Educators offer blood pressure monitoring year-round at select salons and barbershops throughout Rochester as part of the Get It Done initiative. 

"If you reach just one person, you save their life, and you have made a difference," McCrea said.

Started in 2001, the Get it Done program is a public health campaign that is supported by Trillium Health and the High Blood Pressure Collaborative, which is led by the Rochester Business Alliance and the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency.

Four times a year, student nurse volunteers offer additional Get It Done screenings at participating salon and barbershop locations. Last year, nearly 23 percent of those screened through the Get it Done program were unaware of their health risk for hypertension.

Phyllis Jackson, a registered nurse and community engagement specialist with FLHSA, says the program is effective because beauticians and barbers see clients on a regular basis, so they can monitor individuals throughout the year.

“When a client’s blood pressure is high, we really encourage them to see their primary care providers,” Jackson said. “Many of our clients have gotten medication or made lifestyle changes to get their blood pressure under control.”

Jackson credits the program’s success to the atmosphere of trust that exists at barber and beauty shops, which allows community health educators to share information.

“In African American and Latino Communities, barber and beauty shops are where people are very comfortable,” Jackson said. “It’s where they congregate. The operators get to know what’s up.”

For people with no other risk factors, a blood pressure reading of 140/90 is considered high, Jackson said. Most people are aware that high blood pressure can permanently damage their body, yet too many people fail to consistently take their medications or make needed lifestyle changes to get their blood pressure under control, she said.

“Helpful reminders from a trusted professional can help folks to keep on track,” Jackson said.

The Get It Done program is part of the High Blood Pressure Collaborative’s larger public health campaign that includes clinical coaching, peer counseling in religious institutions, worksite wellness programs and the placement of blood pressure kiosks around the community.

Over the last four years of the program, high blood pressure control rates for adults in Monroe County increased by 11.5 percent, according to the FLHSA’s registry of high blood pressure data. However, less affluent minority communities are not improving as quickly. Control rates for African Americans improved only 9.6 percent and rates for people of moderate socio-economic status increased by only 10.2 percent, the data showed.

“That’s why programs aimed at poorer minority communities like Get It Done are so important,” said Jackson. “We have to reach out to individuals where they are and with the right kind of encouragement if we aim to improve the community’s health.”

Reginard Phillips, a barber at Masterpiece Locks & Twists Unisex and a community health educator, said it’s easy to start a conversation about health in a barber shop.

“Who wants to go to the doctor’s office?” Phillips said. “They’ve got needles. Everybody’s scared of the doctor’s office. But when you hear it from a colleague or a friend, I think it’s a little more personal, intimate, where you can get your point across.”