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Portland Barbershops Got Blood Pressure Push from North by Northeast Center

The only medical clinic focused on African American health in Oregon is reaching out to those most at risk.
October 5, 2015

“The reason I became involved in Cuts and Checks,” said Derwin Cunningham, patient ambassador for North by Northeast Community Health Center’s new barbershop-based blood pressure screening program, “is my father,” who did not take his blood pressure medication, suffered a stroke and died.

“He had that whole strong man syndrome,” Cunningham told the We Can Do Better Conference where several hundred gathered to learn, connect and act to improve healthcare and health. Opening remarks on health equity showcased dismal statistics on chronic conditions in minority populations; hypertension is controlled in only about 30 percent of the African American population.

“Most of them don’t want to go to their regular doctor because the message I get over and over is ‘they don’t care about me’,” Cunningham said.

Dr. Jill Ginsberg, medical director of North by Northeast, the only medical clinic focused on African American health, said her patients’ “past experience with the medical system is almost universally terrible” so her clinic, with nine years of building trust in the African American community, began reaching out to those most at risk where they are – in Portland barbershops.

Sharetta Butcher, a community health worker, said barbers trained to take blood pressure at three Portland barbershops have conducted more than 500 tests since the program began in January -- with a quarter of those needing follow up. Butcher said the program expands to a fourth barbershop and beauty shops with funding from Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in 2016.

Lawrence Frank, professor in Sustainable Transportation and Public Health at the University of British Columbia and President of Urban Design 4 Health, Inc. describes himself as the author of “what became known as the ‘driving makes you fat’ study” in Atlanta. That study found that every hour in a car increases by 6 percent the likelihood of obesity.

Frank advocates for policies to make it more expensive to license multiple cars in a single household rather than the current incentives such as insurance discounts for multi-car households.

He also authored a San Diego study of 18,000 participants that showed a 10 percent decrease in Type II diabetes disease risk and a 15 percent decrease in cardiovascular disease risk in walkable neighborhoods. That study provided San Diego-area decision makers with seven scenarios for neighborhoods and their various health impacts.

“What does a diabetes case cost?” Frank asked, looking at how a community that gets 3,000 new residents and 300 fewer diabetes cases might use healthcare savings to offset its investment in transit systems.

Frank is studying Portland’s new Tri-Met Orange Line and its impact on 600 Kaiser Permanente members, half of whom live along the Orange Line and half who don’t, to determine its impact on healthcare utilization and costs.

In response to questions about the Oregon legislature’s study of universal healthcare, Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward said “change is really scary even when it will change the fabric of our society for the better.”

She pointed out that healthcare is a $3 trillion industry with $36 billion spent in Oregon, with $1 out of every $6 spent in Oregon flowing through healthcare.

Jan can be reached at [email protected].