University of Iowa to provide more inclusive hair and skin products to patients of color

By Francie Williamson, Communications Coordinator, Department of Psychiatry

Many patients have an expectation that the appropriate hair and skin care products will be provided for them when they are staying at the hospital.

But that’s not the case for everyone, as Jodi Tate, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry, learned after a Black patient commented that they wished they had a comb for their hair while staying in the Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Jodi Tate, MD

Tate decided to stock the CSU with those items, but was still concerned that those items weren’t available to every person of color staying at UI Hospitals and Clinics. To change that, she teamed up last year with Nkanyezi Ferguson, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology who runs an ethnic skin care clinic, as well as Hospital Chief of Staff Marta Van Beek, MD; John Wagner, MA, RN-BC, director of nursing services for behavioral health,Trudy Laffoon, MA, RN-BC, nurse manager in dermatology, Nicholas PochDNPNPL, DON, Quality Nursing Practice Leader and Poorani Sekar, MD, clinical assistant professor and infectious disease specialist, and got input from about 100 people working across the hospital system.

“John Wagner called all over the US to see what other hospitals were doing or to see if we could find a vendor that could supply all these things. We couldn’t find any hospitals in US that supply these things to patients,” Tate says. “Essentially people had to bring their own and people just assumed there was nothing wrong with that.”

Ferguson says she thinks hospitals don’t provide such products due to a lack of awareness.

“I don’t think it’s a lack of people wanting to do the right thing,” Ferguson says. “If you’re not exposed to it, I don’t think that you necessarily think about it. Patients of color just assume that appropriate basic grooming supply needs are not going to be met in the hospital because this has traditionally been that way.”

Ferguson says the goal is to have kits in each inpatient unit that will include a variety of basic supplies for hair care, including “sulfate-free shampoos, which aren’t really special shampoos but anyone with dry hair should not be using shampoos with sulfate in them.”

The kits also will include conditioner and satin head scarves, to protect hair styles and prevent hair breakage from hospital pillowcases.

“Also, because the hair tends to be dryer it is common to add moisture to the hair shaft so we’re including leave in products such as coconut oil and shea butter. These products help with styling and prevent over-drying and breakage of the hair,” Ferguson says.

Nkanyezi Ferguson, MD

In addition, there will be wide-toothed combs, Ferguson says, “because the hair tends to be more fragile, and because it has a curlier nature to it, it gets more tangled.”

For men of color, there will be products that will help groom facial hair.

“They’re more prone to getting razor bumps known as pseudofolliculitis barbae,” Ferguson says.

The kits will first be available on three units, including the CSU and another adult psychiatry unit, before they are rolled out hospital wide, so there is time to educate the frontline staff and get feedback about the project, as well as work out any logistical issues.

Tate and Ferguson say they anticipate this initiative will be positively received.

“When you can’t even comb your hair or wash your hair or have the correct razor to shave, that’s microaggression,” Tate says. “It’s just this constant, ‘you’re not really one of us’ kind of stuff. We want people’s basic needs met when they come to the hospital. We don’t want people to worry about if they can comb their hair or shave, so we can deal with what’s ailing them.”

Ferguson says she anticipates patients will feel validated, as their basic needs and differences between populations are accounted for.

Tate says she would like to see this initiative spread beyond UI Hospitals and Clinics.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring this to the rest of the United States so all hospitals can have inclusive hair and skin supplies,” Tate says.

Monday, July 6, 2020