By Mrinal Gokhale
Gaulien “Gee” Smith, owner of Milwaukee’s longest running barbershop, has several immediate family members that passed away from preventable illnesses before the age of 65. He recently encouraged one of his clients to get a prostate cancer screening, and so the client did and discovered that he’s in the early stages of the disease. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Now, Smith and Anthem BlueCross BlueShield are opening the MKE Wellness Clinic to save more lives. Located inside Gee’s Clippers, the clinic will provide cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose, hearing, vision, HIV and STI screenings, and host the first express location for Hyatt Pharmacy. “The offerings we will have has never been done in any barbershop in the country,” Smith said. “It literally looks better than my doctor’s office.”
A ribbon cutting celebration took place in honor of the clinic on the morning of Feb. 24 at Gee‘s Clippers, 2200 N. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Attendees got a peek at the clinic area and heard remarks from various clinic partners, such as the City of Milwaukee Health Department, Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), Aurora Health Care, and Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin.
Mayor Tom Barrett described Gee’s Clippers as the Bronzeville neighborhood’s “Town Square” because of its longevity and “relaxing, inviting atmosphere where you can build trust.” He said that once open, “Wellness Gee-niuses” on staff will discuss the many services the clinic offers with customers.
“We will have ‘Geeniuses’ talks three days a week with customers about health, physical health, emotional health, health insurance, and maybe things that affect their health like jobs, housing or food,” Barrett said.
Jeannette Kowalik, City of Milwaukee health commissioner, believes that due to the clinic’s location in the inner city, fewer people will have to visit the surrounding suburbs for healthcare.
“Oftentimes, there may be some stigma or hesitation to come into a healthcare clinic, so having these opportunities to get services at various points in the inner city for access to service is really important,” she said.
Wendy Collins, community outreach manager at Anthem, stated that the addition of the MKE Wellness Clinic to Gee’s Clippers will help the Bronzeville neighborhood continue to flourish.
“For 25 years, this facility provided and continues to provide friendship, fellowship, partnership to the community,” she said. “This expansion of emotional healing to physical healing will provide another level of care and support.”
She said that once open for business, nurses from Aurora Health Care, Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, and more community volunteers will provide clinic services.
The MKE Wellness Clinic’s soft and full launch will take place on March 5 and April 4 respectively. Once open for business, hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays.