NYC Board of Health declares racism a public health crisis

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The New York City Board of Health declared racism a public health crisis, citing America’s history of slavery and the devastating outcomes for minorities during the coronavirus pandemic.

The anti-racism resolution was approved by an 11-member board Monday whose members are largely appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The resolution calls for the city Health Department to implement policies to address racism in its own research and policies, including “a racially just recovery from COVID-19, as well as other actions to address this public health crisis in the short and long term.”

“To build a healthier New York City, we must confront racism as a public health crisis,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi.

“The COVID-19 pandemic magnified inequities, leading to suffering disproportionately borne by communities of color in our City and across our nation. But these inequities are not inevitable. Today is an historic day for the country’s oldest Board of Health to officially recognize this crisis and demand action.”

The Biden Administration’s Centers for Disease Control recently declared structural racism a public health threat as have other localities.

“Racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans. As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation. Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they gather in community,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in April.

Dave Chokshi,  commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Dave Chokshi said confronting racism is necessary to build a healthier New York City.
NYC Mayors Office

“Racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans. As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation. Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they gather in community,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in April.

Public health experts applauded the city for confronting an uncomfortable truth.

“It’s a wake-up call. Public health is a mirror. It’s one of the most common ways where racism presents itself,” Dr. Ayman El-Mohandes, dean of CUNY’s School of Public Health who has studied racial disparities in medical outcomes, told The Post Monday night.

“It’s not comfortable to hear but it’s reality.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said racism is “a serious public health threat.”
Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP

He noted that racial and ethnic minority residents — disproportionately employed as front-line workers during the pandemic — were more exposed to and impacted by COVID-19.

The city Board of Health resolution calls on the health department to research and acknowledge examples of its own historic role in divesting and underinvesting in health programs in neighborhoods largely populated by African-Americans and other minority groups and to participate in a “truth and reconciliation process with communities harmed by these actions when possible;”

The department will create a “Data for Equity” group to address racial inequities and improve health outcomes and will make recommendations to amend the City Charter to combat medical-related racism.

Ayman El-Mohandes
Ayman El-Mohandes has studied racial disparities in medical outcomes.
CUNY Graduate School of Public Health

Health officials already report fatalities, injuries, health conditions, by race, gender, and other demographics.

There will also be a review of the city Health Code to identify and eliminate any provisions that “support systemic and structural racism and bias.”

Meanwhile, the resolution calls on the health department to partner with city agencies and other organizations to address “structural racism” within policies, plans and budgets related to all social determinants such as transportation, education, housing, economic opportunities, civic participation as well as healthcare delivery.

Officials will report to the Board of Health twice a year on its progress. in combatting racial disparities.

“Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) New Yorkers have suffered from disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection and death, including a disproportionate drop in life expectancy for Black and Latino New Yorkers, and Black and Latino New Yorkers have inequitably low rates of COVID-19 vaccination,” the resolution says

The resolution adds that the NYC Health Department has extensively documented racial inequities in rates of AIDS/ HIV, tuberculosis, maternal mortality, infant mortality, mental health conditions, chronic diseases and mortality, gun violence and homicides “that existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In the resolution, health officials cited the country’s system racism stemming from
“settler colonialism, indigenous genocide, and enslavement of Africans.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio
The Board of Health is largely appointed by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Robert Miller

But the resolution also pointed to a long history of “anti-Asian violence” affecting health including the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment.

Moreover, the officials even said increased interactions with law enforcement are linked to poorer health outcomes.

“Structural racism systematically excludes, marginalizes, and harms BIPOC
across NYC through discriminatory housing, employment, education, healthcare, criminal legal, and other systems, all of which result in avoidable and unjust health outcomes,” the resolution says.

The board’s action ratifies a statement put out by the city Health Department Department in June which declared racism a public health crisis.

Medical personnel adjust their personal protective equipment while working in the emergency department at NYC Health + Hospitals Metropolitan, May 27, 2020
The department will create a “Data for Equity” group.
AP Photo/John Minchillo, File

In addition, the resolution cites mistreatment of native Americans, noting that New York City is located on Lenape, Rockaway, and Canarsie land and these “original injustices” have been without restitution.

Fighting the public health crisis of racism “is a central tenet of critical race theory” — a teaching lesson about racism that has triggered a revolt among many parents across the country, including the Big Apple.

“The work of undoing racism is grounded in love, as well as science and
civic duty. This love is not sentimental, rather it is what James Baldwin called the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth,’” the resolution says.

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