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Lori Weems, Health Access Initiative for Recovery (HAIR)
Lori Weems, Health Access Initiative for Recovery (HAIR)

Life Changing Is ... Pursuing a Passion

Lori Weems, Health Access Initiative for Recovery (HAIR)

"We thought, what a wonderful partnership to really engage with the barbers and stylists and arm them with tools for their toolbox to help their clients."

Lori Weems gets tears in her eyes when discussing the blossoming success of the Health Access Initiative for Recovery (HAIR) program.

“It makes me so happy and excited to see,” says Lori, program manager of HAIR.

UPMC Health Plan launched the community-based HAIR program in May 2023 to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month.

The program trains barbers and stylists in Black communities how to talk to customers about substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and suicide prevention.

HAIR also aims to improve health in minority communities by increasing meaningful outreach, supporting education and engagement, and reducing health disparities.

“What we know is that African-Americans do not go to treatment,” says Lori, Community Care Behavioral Health, UPMC Insurance Services Division. “They experience mental health at the same rate as the general population. However, they don't engage in treatment at the same rate.”

Lori attributes the lack of engagement to distrust, bias, and a stigma around mental health among members of the Black community.

But, she says, they do trust their barbers and stylists.

“They look to them for advice on many things, and they share their deepest things with their barbers and stylists,” Lori says.

“We thought, what a wonderful partnership to really engage with the barbers and stylists and arm them with tools for their toolbox to help their clients around mental health, substance use, and suicide prevention.”

Lori believes one of the reasons barbers and stylists are so trusted is because they are like family to their clients.

“They come to them maybe every two weeks,” she says. “Some people come every week, and they listen. They're listeners. They listen to them. They hear them.”

But barbers and stylists are not just listeners. They are also advocates for their community. HAIR aims to equip them with even more resources to make a positive impact.

“They already are doing the work,” Lori says. “But by them going through this program, now they have the resources to say, ‘Call this person, call this number, and they can help you.’”

And while those behind the chair are working to help their clients, they are also taking the weight off their own shoulders.

“It takes the pressure off them,” Lori says. “Because they carry what their clients are sharing with them, and now they don’t have to carry it.”

For Lori, seeing the HAIR program come to fruition is the realization of a longtime passion — one where barbers, stylists, and those in the community receive the help they need.

“It's one thing for us to think that this is a good program,” Lori says. “But it's another thing for the barbers and stylists to say, ‘This is wonderful. This is helping us. Thank you so much.’"

At UPMC, Life Changing Medicine means pursuing a passion to help improve the health of our communities.

Pittsburgh (KDKA): Group of Pittsburgh barbers want clients to look and feel good.

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