A curly hair program at Advocate Children’s Hospital began as a grassroots effort among staff at its Park Ridge campus who wanted to provide patients with equitable haircare options. Along the way, the Illinois hospital’s journey took an unexpected turn.
In researching product options, the hospital’s eight-person committee could find no hospital-grade, commercially available products suitable for textured hair.
“There was no infrastructure for hair care products or supplies that address the needs of curlier hair — not necessarily black or Afro-textured hair, just curlier hair. This was eye opening, and it highlighted a blind spot within health care systems across the nation,” says Chinelo Okafur, MD, a pediatric hospitalist and medical director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Advocate Children’s, who worked on the project.
To find the right products, the committee started from scratch.
Hospital-grade hair care products
Nekaiya Jacobs, MD, a pediatric intensivist and medical director of R.I.S.E. with the office of DEI at Advocate Children’s, says team members reached out to companies that made products they themselves used. Many wanted to help but lacked the resources to make a hospital-grade product. Eventually Advocate Health’s sourcing team connected committee members with Hollywood Beauty, a hair and skin product manufacturer willing to develop hospital-grade products.
Hospital-grade products must not contain scents, latex, or certain oils and chemicals. Jacobs says committee members tested multiple product formulations to ensure they would meet patients’ needs. The next step was having the products tested by a chemist and cleared by the health system’s legal team. Finally, the committee had to ensure expiration dates were included on packaging.
“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s worth it to have a hospital-grade supplier for equitable haircare,” Jacobs says.
The fruit of the committee’s work has expanded to the Oak Lawn campus of Advocate Children’s and will soon be available throughout the Advocate Health system, which is made up of 68 hospitals in six states. Patient kits include Advocate branded bonnets, curl-safe shampoo and conditioner, wide tooth combs, and firm bristle brushes. The committee also created haircare educational materials for front-line staff and information needed to reorder supplies from Hollywood Beauty.
Talking about hair care
“When we first started, a lot of conversations were about people not feeling comfortable bringing up the topic of hair. Staff didn’t want it to seem like they were singling someone out or making assumptions about haircare routines,” Jacobs says.
Staff members received education about types of hair, including differences in the density, porosity, and specific types or hairstyles. The committee also posted helpful tips in storage areas and developed scripting to put staff at ease when asking patients about their haircare needs. A menu of haircare options was also included with patient admission materials.
“More and more team members are talking about it as they’ve gotten more comfortable with the initiative. It has become part of our culture,” Jacobs says.
Caring for the whole person
Jacobs considers inclusive hair care options part of the overarching approach to health care.
“Feeling good about yourself is an important part of healing, and this is a minor thing we can do to help patients’ well-being,” she says. “Families put their trust in our hospital system to care for their children. This is just another way for us to demonstrate to our families, to our patients, to our communities that we care about them as people and not just as diseases or numbers. We care for them as people.”