A New York Hospital has kickstarted an inclusive hair care program called the Crown Hair Care Project. This project according to its official description, is “an innovative patient care program that provides a wide array of hair care products to serve the health system’s diverse patient population.” 

The idea for the project started in 2021 when the Patient Care Director at New York Presbyterian (NYP), Felicia C. Alleyne, MSN, reached out to The Dalio Center for Health Justice. The Dalio Center is a department of NYP that launched in 2020 to address medical inequities. Alleyne noticed the lack of diverse hair care products that were offered to pediatric patients and began alongside her team, purchasing an array of diverse hair care kits.

“We set out to create a travel-sized hair care bundle, including a comb, that offered clear instructions on Black hair management and could be easily stored in the hospital,” Alleyne told 21Ninety. “We worked closely with hospital staff on education, storage and tracking consumption so we could adjust any quantities.”

With support from the Dalio Center, Alleyne and her team’s work is now formalized and they are able to properly serve patients at NYP. The result of this partnership is a hair care kit that includes moisturizing shampoo, moisturizing conditioner, curling cream, three-in-one combs, as well as durags and satin bonnets. All of which are essential in maintaining Black hair.

So far, the programme has been paying off.

“The program has helped to build bridges between cultures and since the program’s pilot, I have encountered a number of people outside of the Black community who are adopting the hair care program’s recommendations, such as moisturizing hair and sleeping with a hair covering,” Alleyne explained. “One of my nurses, who does not identify as Black, has purchased the same hair products to care for her hair at home!”

A Worthy Cause

Implementing a diverse hair care progam in hospitals, especially one that caters to “curly, coily and tight textured hair,” is an especially welcome development. It is one that comes just as Black women in America continue to navigate various socio-cultural perceptions targeted at their hair, even with the enactment of the Crown Act in 2017 that broadly shuns discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture.

Alleyne and Whitney C. Harris, MSN, Manager of Clinical & Community Strategy at the Dalio Center worked closely together to bring the hospital system’s hair care program to life. They say it has been important to listen to staff and patient feedback and implement to reflect the most pressing needs.

“After rolling out the first iteration and sending kits to NewYork-Presbyterian’s Brooklyn Methodist Hospital campus, employees offered helpful suggestions, many of which will be implemented in our next phase of kits including the incorporation of a satin scrunchie,” Harris said. “As we continue to make kits available for adult patients, we’re thinking about additional ways to evolve and enhance the kits to continue to improve the program.”

A Normalization of Black Hair

In addition to solving a largely overlooked medical inequity, the hair care program also sets a precedence for hair care in medical institutions and beyond.  

“This Crown Hair Program is a celebration of Black hair and a normalization of our hair,” Alleyene said. “Hair in the Black community can be a sensitive subject, as it is closely associated with beauty, acceptance, self-esteem, self-image, community identity, and even political action.”

Alleyne says the benefits are limitless.

“Like any other social change in which the root of the issue may have started in one community, the true lessons and gifts are for all of humanity.  We are free to be our truest selves, especially at NewYork-Presbyterian,” she added.

Harris agrees.

“The conversation around Black hair can only evolve from here. As a nurse that’s been working at large academic centers for 10+ years, I’m proud to be part of the team expanding the project across the enterprise at NewYork-Presbyterian,” she said. “I am grateful that hospital leadership is taking a critical eye to what programs we can implement, and is committed to allocating resources to sustain something as impactful as the Crown Hair Program.”

Hopes For The Future

Both Alleyne and Harris hope that the NYP Hair Care program will inspire the healthcare system to take this part of medical service a lot more seriously.

“There is a universality component to this program and is a source of validation for members of the Black community.  The notion that a powerful organization, like NewYork-Presbyterian, sees, hears, and responds to the needs of a community that is often rejected and ignored in mainstream society, has touched anyone receiving the Crown Project’s offerings.  It is an investment that is validating, empowering, affirming, and loving,” Alleyne said.

Harris says she hopes healthcare systems will continue to recognize that addressing individual patient needs is paramount in delivering better care.

“Providing these hair kits gives patients confirmation that NewYork-Presbyterian sees their unique differences and is committed to offering products that are focused on improving the health of those differences,” Harris said.

That hope is already coming to fruition, as Unity Point Health, a hopsital in Des Moines, Iowa, recently began assembling and delivering diverse hair care kits to its patients. The kits, which include shampoo, conditioner, and cream from popular Black hair company Cantu, were put together by the UnityPoint Health Black African American Community Group. The kits are also set to be available in other regions of the UnityPoint hospitals in August.