An innovative public health program that provides free flu shots and a wide range of health and wellness services to Baltimore City residents continues to expand after a successful pilot program that began a year ago and now includes various neighborhood barbershops and beauty salons.
Photo: Stacy M. Brown
“From our perspective, we feel a part of the Baltimore community. We’re investing and we have invested in Baltimore, and part of our mission has always been improving the health of the community we serve,’ said Dr. Bernadette Loftus, the associate executive director of the Permanente Medical Group, which provides medical care to Kaiser Permanente members.
Loftus says it was a conversation with former BG&E director and Cryor Group president, Michael Cryor, that helped to kick off a small pilot program involving Kaiser and New Beginnings Barbershop in West Baltimore, last year.
“We had such a nice response, it was such a great experience and we wanted to duplicate that this year and make more services available to the community, thus, we’ve expanded our services and expanded the number of barbershops and beauty salons we’re working with,” Loftus said.
This year, Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States decided to partner with four barbershops and salons— Illusions Barbershop, New Beginnings Barbershop, Short Cutz, and Vanity the Salon.
The partnership offers free flu immunizations and a wide range of health screenings and wellness services to residents, regardless of whether they have insurance or are Kaiser Permanente members. It’s part of a concerted effort to afford community members a closer look at Kaiser’s commitment to the area.
Earlier this summer, Kaiser also announced a flagship partnership with Bon Secours in West Baltimore and launched the Kaiser Permanente Institute for Equitable Leadership, in an effort to strengthen five Baltimore organizations.
They also partnered with a West Baltimore neighborhood to renovate a park in Park Heights, which created a safe place for children to play.
“At the heart of the original genesis of the program, which all came out of a conversation with Cryor at a special event where we talked about the challenge of closing health disparities in minority communities and we focused on influenza and the flu vaccine,” Loftus said. “There is less uptake of the vaccine in minority communities, particularly the African-American community which comes from a little distrust as to what’s in the vaccine.”
“We’re trying to say that we’re a part of the community and we’re partnering with trusted community assets like barbershops and beauty salons and showing the community that they trust us and we’re hoping that you come to trust us as well,” Loftus said.
Primarily, people need to understand that influenza kills both adults and children and Kaiser— whose nurses and doctors have agreed to work in the community at mobile health events— want to do what it takes to help individuals feel good about getting the vaccine.
Additionally, the mobile units that Kaiser will continue to station outside various barbershops and salons through December 16, 2017, will provide a number of other health services at no cost, including body mass index calculations, blood pressure checks, blood sugar screenings, HIV tests, screenings for liver and kidney disease and take-home colorectal cancer tests.
Kaiser members will have the opportunity to schedule follow-up visits while non-members may be referred to community clinics.
“This started as a flu campaign,” Loftus said. “If we aren’t successful in convincing someone to get the flu vaccine, then maybe we can address something that has them really worried and help them with that.”
Kim Horn, president of Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States says the company is excited to work hand-in-hand with local barbers and salon owners.
“Kaiser strives to eliminate health disparities and build healthier communities,” Horn said in a release. “We couldn’t do that without strong partnerships like the ones we have with these local businesses.”