Health screening
Nurse practitioner Glenda Kaminski measures the blood pressure of Bruce Melendez, owner of Phade Phanatix, a barber shop on South Florida Avenue. | Stephanie Claytor for LkldNow

Lakeland Regional Health has launched a program called ShopTalk that seeks to encourage men of color to prioritize seeing a primary care physician on a regular basis in order to prevent diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

“Heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes are the leading causes of death in African American men,” according to the program’s website. “And following the pandemic, Hispanic men experienced the steepest decline in life expectancy with a 3.7-year drop.”

Lakeland Regional’s director of community health, Lauren Springfield, said there is an increased focus on improving the health of men in the community. She and a doctor or nurse practitioner visit three barber shops in Lakeland on a monthly basis and offer free services such as blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol screenings.

The barber shops they currently visit include Phade Phanatix, 3234 S. Florida Ave., which has a diverse clientele with many Latino and Black customers, and My Touch, 1227 Ariana St., and Second to None barbershop, 1320 N. Florida Ave., which cater to a mostly Black clientele. They typically visit the shops on Thursdays and Fridays, from 2 to 4 p.m.

On a recent Thursday, Bruce Melendez, owner of Phade Phanatix, sat down for a screening, meeting his goal of keeping better tabs on his health.

“I’m guilty as charged. As Lauren said, the statistics are bad. We don’t go to the doctor enough. We try to tough it out as men. But if it’s there, available, I don’t really have an excuse. I do care. I want to make sure I live long for my kids,” said Melendez, a father of five. “I value my life so that is why I’m sitting here.”

The screening took less than 10 minutes. He learned that his cholesterol, sugar and blood pressure numbers were all normal. He was ecstatic, considering he went to the VA about a year ago and learned his cholesterol numbers were a little higher than normal. He changed his diet and credits that to the improvement in his health.

 If they save one, two , three lives … that’s a success rate and if I’m a part of that, I’ll take a lot of pride in that.

bruce melendez, lakeland barber

“I think it’s going to help the community itself,” Melendez said about the program. “They’re here once a month and when you come get a haircut, it’s a little bit more comfortable environment for men and I think that it’s a good avenue for the program to grow. And if they save one, two , three lives … that’s a success rate and if I’m a part of that, I’ll take a lot of pride in that.”

Melendez said his barbershop, which houses about five barbers including himself, serves dozens of men a week. “It’s got a good chance to impact somebody,” Melendez said about the program.

Springfield said ShopTalk started offering services at Phade Phanatix last November. It was created after a community health needs assessment revealed there were disparities in men, particularly men of color, in the areas of obesity, heart disease and cancer.

After the men receive their screening, Springfield hands them a pamphlet, which informs them of important medical readings, such as “120/80 or below is considered a normal” blood pressure reading, or that cholesterol should be “less than 200 mg/dl” or that “18.5-24.9 is a healthy Body Mass Index for men. “ It informs the men of when to get different vaccinations and health screenings for things such as colon cancer and prostate cancer.

“We explain how important it is for you to know your numbers and why that’s important in preventing disease later down the road … We know we can have an impact on these numbers through basic nutrition changes, through exercise and through that annual visit with your primary care doctor,” Springfield said.

So far, they have done 150 screenings at barbershops since the program began, she estimates. Her goal is to do two screenings each time they visit a barber shop, but says they do four to eight.

“It really is about building relationships,” Springfield said. “Our goal is to eventually do CPR training in the barber shops, (and) to eventually place AEDs in the barber shops so they have access to that. And to do some stop-the-bleed training.”

Springfield explained that stop-the-bleed training teaches people how to care for someone involved in a trauma incident until the paramedics arrive.

During the screenings, Springfield and the health-care provider also refer the patient to a primary care physician in the Lakeland Regional Health medical group if they don’t have one.

“If they don’t have insurance, we’re huge advocates of the Polk County Healthcare Plan because it’s so underutilized in our community but offers so many great resources to people without insurance,” Springfield said.

Along with visiting barber shops, Springfield said they recently held a breakfast to educate barbers on the same health issues. They also offered the barbers screenings since when they visit the shops, they’re typically busy cutting hair. Springfield said this was important considering barbers often hear about their clients’ ailments and as a result of the breakfast, would be more educated on how to assist them in getting help.

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Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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