Black men in barbershop
April 23, 2015

An innovative barbershop and hair salon program with the potential to save lives and improve public health kicked off on April 23, 2015 at Christopher's Grooming Lounge in Washington, DC, sponsored by the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health’s Center for Health Equity and the Cigna Foundation. The goal is to help improve health for African Americans, who have the highest rate of new cases of colorectal cancer and are the most likely to die from this disease. 

Stephen B. Thomas, professor of Health Services Administration in the UMD School of Public Health and founding director of the school’s Maryland Center for Health Equity (M-CHE), introduced the campaign, Health Advocates In-Reach and Research (HAIR), funded in part by a $200,000 grant from the Cigna Foundation with support from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. The work is designed to train barbers and beauticians, with whom customers often confide, on how to educate their clientele about colorectal cancer and the importance of getting preventive screenings. The campaign also includes a team of medical professionals from Capital Digestive Care, Inc. (CDC), the largest gastroenterology group practice on the East Coast. CDC has joined Cigna and M-CHE in this initiative by offering colonoscopy screenings to people reached through the HAIR network.

“I am very pleased to be a part of the "HAIR" initiative partnering with the University of Maryland's Center for Health Equity," said Christopher Bradley, owner of Christopher’s Grooming Lounge. “I am even more excited that my staff has the opportunity to add such an important value to the lives of our customers. Discussing health issues can always be a sensitive subject, so it is a great idea to be able to receive life-saving health information from our technicians. It just makes sense because the community trusts us.”

Over the past decade, Dr. Thomas has conducted public health research on mobilizing and transforming Black barbershops and beauty salons into venues for health promotion, disease prevention and delivery of clinical care in communities at risk for chronic disease.

“Today we have the advantage of the Affordable Care Act which is creating new incentives for doctors and hospitals to keep people healthy by reaching them before they get sick,” he said. “This partnership with the Cigna Foundation is recognition by a major health insurance company that business as usual is not working and now is the time to invest in new and innovative methods for reaching racial and ethnic minority populations.”

In November, Dr. Thomas announced the first phase of the grant in Prince George County, Maryland. Funding from Cigna Foundation allows M-CHE to expand the program in Maryland and the National Capital Region.

M-CHE will train barbers and hair stylists as Lay Health Advocates to educate their clientele about colorectal cancer and the importance of getting screened.

“Family health history, personal history and race are among the common risk factors for colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Mary A. Garza, Associate Director of the Center for Health Equity and principal investigator for the project. “A unique component of the project will be the family health histories that M-CHE will train counselors to conduct onsite with customers.” Cigna’s President for the Mid-Atlantic region, Julia Huggins, and Dr. Christina Stasiuk, Cigna's National Medical Director for Health Disparities were also on hand at the kickoff event to discuss the program.

“The Cigna Foundation works to nourish culturally-sensitive projects that are incubators for innovation," Huggins said. “We’re proud to support this initiative, which will make a difference in improving health here in Washington.”

African Americans have the highest rate of new cases of colorectal cancer and are the most likely to die from it. Individuals age 50 and older are most at risk for colorectal cancer, although screening for African Americans is recommended at age 45. More than 50,000 people die each year from the disease. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 135,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year.

The HAIR project is funded as a part of the Cigna Foundation’s World of Difference grants. The Cigna Foundation established the World of Difference grants to tackle health equity challenges by helping people overcome barriers to their health and well-being.  

About the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity

The University of Maryland’s Center for Health Equity (M-CHE) is a university-wide research initiative, established in September 2010, and based in the university’s School of Public Health. It is an NIH designated Center of Excellence on Race, Ethnicity, and Health Disparities Research, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Its mission is to raise the visibility of racial and ethnic health disparities and implement promising solutions to advance a better state of health through diverse partnerships, programs, and campaigns. M-CHE seeks to establish and sustain a community-engaged research enterprise on critical health disparities to achieve health equity. For more information on M-CHE visit http://sph.umd.edu/che.

About the Cigna Foundation

The Cigna Foundation, founded in 1962, is a private foundation funded by contributions from Cigna Corporation (NYSE: CI) and its subsidiaries. The Cigna Foundation is committed to working together with nonprofit organizations that are creating innovative approaches to improving the health and security of individuals and communities everywhere. The Foundation’s primary grant making focus is on health equity, with an emphasis on sharing the expertise and energies of Cigna's people with our nonprofit partners

About Cigna

Cigna Corporation (NYSE: CI) is a global health service company dedicated to helping people improve their health, well-being and sense of security. All products and services are provided exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, including Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, Life Insurance Company of North America and Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. Such products and services include an integrated suite of health services, such as medical, dental, behavioral health, pharmacy, vision, supplemental benefits, and other related products including group life, accident and disability insurance. Cigna maintains sales capability in 30 countries and jurisdictions, and has more than 85 million customer relationships throughout the world. To learn more about Cigna®, including links to follow us on Facebook or Twitter, visit www.cigna.com.

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Mary A. Garza, Stephen B. Thomas