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Barbershop Health Outreach addresses disparities

Releford speaks about education and screening at health disparities forum


Oct. 27, 2011

At a forum on health disparities, held on Oct. 20 in the College of Urban Affairs, Bill Releford, the founder of the Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program, spoke about community-based initiatives to address the disparities within urban communities.

“This is an important topic not just for underserved communities, but for the entire country,” said Releford, the keynote speaker and a nationally known researcher. If one part of the country is not well, then the entire country is not well.”

Releford began his career as a foot and ankle surgeon. Throughout his career, he noticed that many patients received unequal care and were forced to undergo amputations due to health disparities. Releford decided to take a stand against this issue.

“You don’t always have to have credentials to make change,” Releford said. “Passion and the idea that change can happen are the most important things.”

Releford developed the Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program to solve the issue of health disparities in his community. The program is a collection of partnerships that work together toward a common goal.

Releford noted that African-American men often die prematurely due to disease. The barbershop program works to change this fact by screening men, educating them about healthy lifestyle choices, and referring them to local health care resources.

Releford also said the program brings doctors and nurses in to barbershops to screen African-American men for high blood pressure and diabetes.

He then explained ways to minimize health disparities within communities. Releford said the most effective strategy is to educate citizens and make sure they are knowledgeable about the topic of health disparities. He also stressed the importance of building on the strengths and resources of a community.

One way the black barbershop program educates community members is through booklets placed in local barbershops. These booklets contain information on free medical tests and low cost health care options.

“There’s nothing more fulfilling than walking into barbershops and seeing men reading those booklets and talking about it,” Releford said.

The forum was the fifth program in a series of forums over the last four years focused on understanding health disparities.

Kendra Daniel, project coordinator at the CSU Center for Health Equity, explained the importance of the series. “The goal of the project is to develop a comprehensive and collaborative program of recruitment, education and retention designed to expand the workforce of health providers, researchers and faculty working to reduce health disparities,” she said.

Daniel said the most recent forum worked to create a dialogue between academic researchers and local minority populations, and to help them explore an interest in community-based research.

Bette Bonder, a professor in the School of Health Sciences, noted the significance of the topic. “Health disparities are a serious challenge to the well-being of communities,” she said. “Located as it is in the heart of an urban area, and serving many students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, CSU has a special responsibility to help address the problem, and a great opportunity to have a real impact.”

The forum was organized by the Center for Health Equity at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs.