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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Maryland Center for Health Equity and Cigna Partner to Train Barbers, Stylists as Community Health Advocates

The Maryland Center for Health Equity (M-CHE) in the University of Maryland School of Public Health and the Cigna Foundation have launched a partnership to encourage colorectal cancer screening among African-Americans through health promotion initiatives in barbershops and beauty salons in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The partnership is made possible by a $200,000 World of Difference grant to M-CHE from the Cigna Foundation. Although the Affordable Care Act provides colorectal cancer screening as one of the free preventive screenings, many people are unaware and do not seek screening in a timely manner. African-Americans have the highest rate for new cases of colorectal cancer and are the most likely to die from it.

[Photo: Ms. Julia Huggins (Cigna), Mr. Rushern L. Baker III (Prince George’s County Executive), Dr. Stephen B. Thomas (Maryland Center for Health Equity), and Mr. Fred Spry (The Shop)]

“I am pleased to be a part of this project personally, and to also involve The Shop,” said Mr. Fred Spry, proprietor of The Shop barbershop and salon. “As barbers and stylists, we hear the stories over and over again. Our customers are comfortable talking with us about issues that they are sometimes not comfortable discussing with their families. So if we can be agents of change to help improve our community’s health, we’re on board.”

Dr. Stephen B. Thomas, professor of health services administration and director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity, said the project builds on the Center’s solid track record of mobilizing barbershops and beauty salons to be locales for health promotion and disease prevention activities within the community.  “This partnership with the Cigna Foundation will allow us to expand our work in the community with barbershops and beauty salons. It is an opportunity to actively engage the community, and to increase age-appropriate and timely screenings to reduce the rates of colorectal cancer deaths. It is also about empowering barbers and hair stylists with the knowledge to improve the community’s health.”

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 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. “So in addition, M-CHE will train genetic counselors to conduct family health histories onsite with customers.”

Ms. Julia Huggins, Cigna’s President for the Mid-Atlantic region, and Dr. Christina Stasiuk, Cigna’s National Medical Director for Health Disparities, presented the grant award at an event at The Shop in Hyattsville, Maryland on November 1.

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

The HAIR project is funded as a part of the Cigna Foundation’s World of Difference Grants. Cigna Foundation established these grants to improve children’s wellness, senior care, women’s health, and health equity – the four social priorities for Cigna’s corporate responsibility platform known as Cigna Connects.

Read more and watch a video about the project: