Health

Racism is a public health crisis that needs immediate action, Linn County Board of Health declares

Board also will establish Office of Minority Health

Protesters march down Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on June 6 during a Black Lives Matter protest. The Linn County Boa
Protesters march down Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on June 6 during a Black Lives Matter protest. The Linn County Board of Health on Thursday released a statement calling for building ties between local government and people of color. It also said it would create an Office of Minority Health. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Linn County Board of Health called for “immediate action to address racism as a public health crisis” in a position statement released Thursday.

The statement calls for building ties between local governments and communities of color, for the establishment of an Office of Minority Health at Linn County Public Health, and for incorporating implicit bias training, inclusion and equity into organizational practice.

The statement — signed by board members Mary Tarbox, Leslie Wright, James Levett, Stacey Walker and Karl Cassell — cites 100 studies linking racism to worse health outcomes for people of color.

“While management of the current COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing challenge, we are greatly concerned about the unjust loss of Black lives in recent weeks,” the statement reads. “This national experience has highlighted the institutional and systemic racism which has claimed many lives and impacted the health and dignity of many others.”

The studies cited document disproportionate rates of COVID-19 illness and death in Black communities and other people of color, as well as police violence that disproportionately affects minorities and is a leading cause of death for young men of color, the statement explains.

“We as a community must work to support African Americans experiencing violence and other negative conditions resulting from systemic and institutional racism,” the statement said.

“Linn County Public Health calls on our policymakers, businesses, schools and other community leaders and institutions to begin taking the necessary actions to address persistent discrimination in housing, education, employment, criminal justice and health care that ultimately leads to poorer health outcomes among people of color.”

The board also released a list of beliefs in the statement that included:

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That racism is a public health crisis affecting all of us.

That efforts are needed to build ties between local governments and communities focusing on health equity to achieve community-centered solutions.

That the anticipation and long-term effects of violence and daily intimidation increase toxic stress, severely harming the health of families and whole communities.

That community leaders of all sectors in Linn County should work to create inclusive organizations and businesses by identifying specific activities and policies which increase diversity across workforce and in leadership positions.

That our organizations and businesses should incorporate implicit bias training, inclusion and equity into organizational practice; offer educational training/activities to expand employee’s understanding of how racism affects individuals and the health of marginalized populations; provide tools to enable everyone to engage actively and authentically with communities of color.

Comments: gage.miskimen@thegazette.com

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