The Vermont Department of Health is enlisting hairdressers to spread the word about good health. The Health Department invited a dozen Bennington County hairstylists, social service workers, and health care providers to the West Mountain Inn in Arlington on Monday to discuss the health resources available to local women and ways of getting the message out, according to public health nurse Christine Bongartz.
Whether the subject is breast self-exams, HIV testing, smoking cessation, early childhood education, or preventing domestic violence, few people are as well-positioned as hairdressers to spread the word, according to the department. "We are counselors," said Sharon Morrissey, owner of Sharon's Style Shoppe in Manchester.
The hairdressers heard suggestions about ways to present information and improve public health. "It's really important for you...to not be judgmental," said Linda Campbell of Bennington County's Project Against Violent Encounters. "You may be the only person [to whom] this woman has ever admitted to being abused.... It's really important to let her tell her story."
Hairdressers should look as well as listen, said Cynthia Himmel of the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont. She suggested that they be sensitive to evidence of "risky behaviors" by their clients. "It's really a fragile moment, a chance to say, 'Are you really taking care of yourself?... Are you putting yourself at risk?' " she said.
The idea of involving hairstylists came from family nurse practitioner Mary McVean. She said a grateful patient had thanked her for her help, telling her she was invaluable. "You're like my hairdresser," McVean remembered the woman as saying. That's how "Operation Hairspray" was born.