Officials in Ohio's Franklin County have accurately labeled racism a "public health crisis," passing a resolution Tuesday evening which both offers a compelling list of evidentiary support for their decision, as well as lays out a 10-part series of steps to address the implications of their vote.
The resolution comes just days after the Franklin County Public Health agency passed a similar declaration May 14.
"For minorities and especially for African Americans, there are huge disparities,” Assistant Health Commissioner Theresa Seagraves told The Columbus Dispatch. “It is unfortunate that here in Ohio we are a state that has some of the best clinical and health services in the nation ... [but] when it comes to health care outcomes, we are consistently rated at the bottom. .... The underlying reason for these really institutionalized and systemic poor health outcomes and disparities does link back to racism."
The resolution explicitly calls out manifestations of racism in housing, employment, education, and criminal justice, which combine to meet "the definition of a public health crisis proposed by Dr. Sandro Galea who notes: 'The problem must affect large numbers of people, it must threaten health over the long-term, and it must require the adoption of large scale solutions.'"
Although the resolution's origins predate the current coronavirus pandemic, the ongoing public health crisis presented by the virus has only served to accentuate the racial disparities described in the declaration.
"Racism has been a pandemic long before the current coronavirus pandemic. Our declaration today is important, but it’s not saying anything that hasn’t been apparent for a long time," County Commissioner Kevin L. Boyce explained in a statement. "COVID-19 has highlighted the health divide between black and white Ohioans, however, and I hope that it can be the catalyst we need to reform the whole health system so that it works for all of us equally."
The three-person County Board of Commissioners is comprised entirely of Democrats, and represents Ohio's most populous county, which includes the city of Columbus.
"Hundreds of years of systemic racism, from slavery to segregation, redlining to Jim Crow, and discrimination in housing, finance, and education, some of which persists today, have led to predictable inequities,” Commissioner Marilyn Brown said in a statement. “We won’t solve these things overnight, but it’s important to start by recognizing them and beginning to work purposefully for change."