The Washtenaw County Board of Health passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis, joining several cities such as Ypsilanti, Jackson, and Kalamazoo in an effort to draw attention towards racial inequity.
The Board of Health met virtually on Friday, June 26, and unanimously finalized the resolution Tuesday, June 30, stating racism is a public health crisis that “harms, kills and prevents individuals and communities from living healthy lives.”
The board established its devotion to working in partnership with community members, organizations, and leaders who are committed anti-racism and community-driven action for powerful transformation.
Washtenaw County ranks 80th out of the 83 Michigan counties for income inequality in a 2020 ranking. There is a 10-year difference in life expectancy between Black and white residents and a 17-year difference between Latino and white residents.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black individuals in Washtenaw County. According to the health department, 33% of Washtenaw’s total cases and 41% of hospitalizations have been Black residents, though they make up only 12% of the county’s total population.
The board’s declaration is the first step in addressing how racial inequality affects health, said Felicia Brabec, who sits on the county’s Board of Commissioners and the Washtenaw County Board of Health
“This declaration and commitment to health equity – as well as the expected action from the Board of Commissioners are critical to our ability to move forward together,” Brabec said in a statement. “Naming racism and truly working together are vital steps, but we must commit to doing more. We must show our commitment at every level, put resources behind our intentions, and work collectively to see meaningful and lasting change.”
The resolution calls for an annual review of progress towards goals, procedures, practices, and budgeting allocations in an effort to supervise advancement towards a more symbolic resolution. You can read the full resolution here.
“We know that racism has helped drive unequal economic, cultural, and medical circumstances that each, and in concert, lead to poorer health outcomes for people of color throughout America,” said James J. Carty, Chair of the Board of Health, in a press release. “The only way to change this is to acknowledge it and center it as we try to learn from the mistakes of our past and build a better community where all residents of Washtenaw County are served fairly and equally.”