June Leslie’s 98-year-old mother-in-law looked in the mirror Wednesday for the first time in months.
“My mom got her hair cut yesterday. I took her to the mirror afterwards and she was just tickled pink. And away she went to play poker,” Leslie said Thursday.
“I said, I’m bringing in a hairdresser like it or not. I was told I would have to say it was a volunteer. “
A haircut might not be a momentous occasion to many, but to residents of the 24-bed Jackson House beside Ashcroft Health Centre, it’s become a big deal.
Three years ago, the regular barber and hairdresser who had been snipping and perming for years left because they didn’t have liability insurance. Interior Health told them they couldn’t cut without insurance, but signing up would cost between $500 and $700.
That was more than they made.
Leslie said she’s come up with another idea. She has found a hairdresser who will go to Jackson House — the woman who cut her mother-in-law’s hair this week as a “volunteer” — and if she doesn’t have the right insurance, Leslie or a staff member at Jackson House will appeal to local service clubs to foot the bill.
Her mother-in-law’s generation regularly got a cut or a perm. It was part of the culture: men hung out at the barbershop, women at the beauty parlor.
“My mom hasn’t had her hair cut since last November. She’s almost 99. She does not understand. It’s just that she didn’t want to look in the mirror any more,” she said.
“I just got tired of it. I should have done this a year ago. I fought with them (Interior Health) and fought with them and got nowhere.”
A spokesperson for Interior Health was not available by deadline.
But Interior Health did provide an emailed statement saying its third-party service providers and contractors need to have liability insurance when working within IHA facilities to protect the authority as well as the contractor.
Insured hairstylists do offer services in some IHA residential-care facilities.
Residents can also make their own arrangements to have someone do their hair on site without insurance or can go out to get their hair done, the statement said.
Barber Bill Spelay and hairdresser Dillys Hodgson had been the regular haircutters at Jackson House for several years. But in March 2010, they were told they about the need for insurance.
The cost was too much, especially since both were giving discounts (or even freebies) already. Both had run their own businesses — Spelay had a barbershop at the Oasis Hotel in Cache Creek for more than 25 years, while Hodgson had her own salon for several years, then went mobile in 1998 — and insurance had never been an issue.
Spelay, 86, said it wasn’t just about cutting hair. It was about the culture that surrounds it. Every four to six weeks, he’d arrive and the men would gather.
“A lot of them, I’ve been cutting their hair for over 20 years,” he said.
One of them acted frightened the first time he cut his hair at Jackson House, despite him being a former customer. Spelay reminded him of the Oasis and told him he was his favourite customer.
“He looked at me and started to cry. Then he settled down, I asked him if he wanted his hair cut. He looked at me with teary eyes and said OK. I said, ‘My name is Bill, do you remember me?’
“I finished cutting his hair, he thanked me. After that, there was no problem.”
One of the staff told him the men would come to life when Spelay would arrive to cut hair, waiting and talking to each other.
He’d always go just before Christmas and take boxes of chocolates or oranges, and his wife’s baking. Interior Health wouldn’t allow the baking because it wasn’t done in the building’s kitchen.
Hodgson is recovering from a failed quadruple bypass and won’t be able to return for quite some time.
She says cutting seniors’ hair was also a social event.
“That day was more than just hairdressing day. We usually played bingo afterward and some days we had dances. A fellow would come in and play his guitar. He knew most of the songs by heart.”
Some of the residents would even dance in their wheelchairs.
“It made for their day to be something different.”
Since she left, she’s heard a couple of hairdressers have come and gone.
Spelay did get a call from the daughter of a resident a while ago who begged him to cut her dad’s hair. The daughter told him she’d checked with staff and he could cut as long as he didn’t charge, just a friend doing a favour.
“The guy I went down to last week, his hair was down to his shoulders, almost,” Spelay said. “There were others who would have loved to have their hair cut, but I couldn’t do it.”
“When you’re nicely groomed, you have a little bit of dignity. They’re so vulnerable at that time when they’re not able to do it for themselves.”