Home Health UW Hospital adds hair care products for Black patients

UW Hospital adds hair care products for Black patients


When a doctor received feedback from a patient that UW Hospital did not have personal care or hygiene products appropriate for Black patients, two nurses sprung into action.

After speaking with a patient, Dr. Jeannina Smith became aware of the lack of Black hair products at the hospital. From there, two nurses, Ann Malec and Nicole Vlasak, took the lead, which led to UW Health making hair oil, hair bonnets, hair picks, bristle boar hair brushes and cocoa buttercream available to patients.

“I saw this as another opportunity to make the experiences of BIPOC folks an experience that says ‘you’re welcome here,” said Pearl Leonard-Rock, Lead Program Coordinator for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Learnings and Professional Development for UW Health.

Malec and Vlasak, both leaders of the Nursing Products and Technology Council, worked with UW Health VP and Chief Diversity Officer Shiva Bidar-Sielaff to coordinate a new process to offer appropriate personal hygiene products that meet the needs of a diverse patient population. Vlasak said the council sought out recommendations from the team before researching other products, comparing costs, and deciding on suitable products. 

“We want to make the best choices possible for the patient to keep them safe, to keep everyone safe,” she said.

The council receives a wide variety of suggestions for products and equipment for the hospital. Vlasak said suggestions range from a particular type of surgical bandages, different types of collars for injuries, and equipment used at other hospitals. 

“This is where we brought the experts of our DEI group. They were the ones who kind of navigated the research for us,” Vlasak said. “They found out what they could and gathered that data.” 

The amount of time it takes to order some of the items varies based on how much research or data available to the council at the time of the inquiry, however, this process happened within a matter of weeks. Leonard-Rock, a relatively new staff member, jumped on board. 

Usually, hospitals carry basic hygiene and personal care items such as shampoo and conditioner; however, these products do not always bode well with Afro-textured hair. Leonard-Rock suggested items based on her personal preferences including moisturizers and other hair care products as well as vaseline. She also did research on bonnets. 

“When patients try out an item, we typically try out about four to five units of an item at a time. We typically look at how quickly an item is used and the quantity that is used,” Vlasak said. 

Leonard-Rock explained this is a part of UW-Health’s effort to provide an inclusive healthcare experience. She also said leadership acknowledges that racism is a public health crisis while providing anti-racism tools for employees and hiring staff of color. Part of Leonard-Rock’s role includes offering opportunities for staff to engage in diversity, equity, and inclusion work.

“I’m really trying to move away from this one-size-fits-all so they have a more enriching educational experience,” she said. “I just think that it’s time for BIPOC folks to be in an educational learning environment to think about the impacts racism has had on them and so they can heal.”