Nell Viers had to help the elderly patient from his wheelchair to the barber’s chair. The man was barely conscious as Viers trimmed his wispy, white hair. It was only when she asked him how he liked his hair styled that his eyes rose to meet hers.

“I used to wear my hair like Elvis,” the man muttered.

Viers went to work, combing and styling a trademark pompadour. At last, she spun the chair around and let the patient see his new “do” in the mirror. For the first time that day, his eyes brightened.

“It’s me again,” he said.

“He didn’t even need help getting back to his wheelchair,” said Viers, who has cut and styled hair at Bristol Regional Medical Center since 1995. “You can see a difference in patients when they get their hair done – they just feel better. And that makes me feel good.”

Both Bristol Regional and Holston Valley Medical Center offer the services of hair stylists to patients. Debbie Gilreath mans the shears at Holston Valley, where she has cut and styled hair for nine years.

“I actually wanted to get out of hair care and into the healthcare field, but when I applied at the hospital, they said they needed a hair dresser,” Gilreath said.

Not long after she took the position however, a job as a patient care technician opened up. Gilreath opted to do both and is pulling double duty – in the beauty shop as a contract hairstylist and in the emergency department as a PCT.

“I don’t have a lot of free time,” she said. “But this is a rewarding job. People get excited when they are going to get their hair done. It’s good therapy.”

Most of their customers are elderly patients who make frequent or extended visits to the hospitals, Viers said, and many are unable to be moved from their rooms.

“You have to learn how to style hair while a person is lying in bed. But I like being able to go to them and visit,” she said. “You can tell that they feel better when they look better, so the first thing they want to do when they get to the hospital is get their hair done.”


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