The King County Board of Health is expected to take action Thursday on a resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis.
Executive Dow Constantine and Public Health Director Patty Hayes issued a declaration by blog post last week, after Hayes announced the initiative during a meeting of the county’s Board of Public Health.
She noted that health officials have been collecting public data for decades showing how Black, indigenous and other people of color in King County are more likely than whites to suffer from all kinds of illnesses.
“Cardiovascular disease, diabetes; they have higher rates of maternal and infant mortality and underweight babies and are more likely to live shorter, less-healthy lives overall,” Hayes said.
And the outbreak of COVID-19 has laid these disparities bare once again. Hayes says the resolution would set the foundation for a comprehensive overhaul of government agencies and the way they work, with the goal of dismantling institutionalized racism.
“It just has to stop. We have to remake ourselves and our institutions to tear down inequity and stand for social justice,” Hayes said.
A CRISIS, NOT AN EMERGENCY
Hayes also made a distinction at the meeting, that this is a crisis — not an emergency. The latter is something she described as requiring a quick response. Instead, she said what the county is facing will require long-term effort and top-to-bottom, systemic change, with all elected officials and agencies in Seattle and King County taking part.
“It is a crisis. It’s not the paramedic showing up and fixing something and then going away,” Hayes said. “This has got to be embedded in the community and driven by community. And so that is why I am purposefully using that term.”
She says they will use data about health disparities as well as input and know-how from communities to inform work to dismantle structural racism.
Among the stated goals so far is the creation of an “Anti-Racism Crisis Response Bill of Rights.”
More details are expected prior to Thursday’s meeting of the Board of Health.
Boston’s Mayor made a similar declaration Friday. The measure there came with a pledge to divert $3 million from the city’s police budget and invest it in public health.