The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday declared racism a public health crisis in Sacramento County.
A resolution, brought forth by District 1 Supervisor and Board Chair Phil Serna, pledges to promote racial equity while shaping policies, appropriating resources, implementing programs, and issuing directives, among other actions.
“Sacramento County is one of the nation’s most diverse communities, and as such, all its citizens should have the opportunity to live their lives free from systemic racism,” said Serna, who also chairs the National Association of Counties’ Health Policy Committee.
“The pandemic, certainly combined with the events this summer with the tragic murder of George Floyd and others, caused a lot of rightful introspection by many of us in elected office to understand how much work there is left to do to combat racism generally, but especially as it relates to public health,” he said.
Serna said the action is intended to be “the beginning, not the conclusion of what the county does.” He acknowledged support by District 2 Supervisor Patrick Kennedy and input on resolution wording from public health officials Dr. Olivia Kasirye and Dr. Peter Beilensen. Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) Executive Director LaShelle Dozier also weighed in on the document’s formation.
“In public health, we of course, on a daily basis, see the impact of health inequities in our communities and how that leads to disparities in health outcomes,” said Dr. Kasirye, who serves as the County’s Public Health Officer.
She pointed to the work being done researching the connection between race and birth outcomes and child deaths.
“It is our hope that this won’t be ‘just a document,’ but a guiding principle for everything that we do,” Dr. Kasirye said, expressing a desire to see future collaboration across County departments centered on addressing health inequities.
Ms. Dozier also addressed the Board during this week’s meeting, speaking on the harmful ramifications of government-sanctioned racism in the form of redlining and segregation.
“The impact of these decades-old housing policies can still be seen today in marginalized neighborhoods and housing where residents cannot achieve upward mobility and lack access to opportunities like better schools, sustainable employment and quality healthcare.
Former SHRA Deputy Executive Director Cassandra Jennings was among those calling in during public discussion of the resolution. Ms. Jennings now serves as president and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Urban League, where she is “dedicated to righting wrongs for the region’s most vulnerable.”
“In spite of all of the efforts and how far we’ve come, from the segregation, from Jim Crow and even still dealing with Prop. 209, institutionalized racism is still very real and it is a public health crisis,” she said. “It is a crisis because racism has reached another plateau that is unconscionable in 2020.”
The Board of Supervisors voted 5-1 to pass the resolution. The only no vote came from District 4 Supervisor Sue Frost.
“I do not support this resolution,” Ms. Frost said.
“I do not believe that America is a racist country or that most Americans are racist. I do not believe that Sacramento County employees are racist,” she continued, stating that leaders are already doing their best to represent all residents and asking where were similar crisis declarations for the LGBT community, the homeless and mentally ill.
Serna said he’d welcome those as well.
The resolution also establishes the intent of the Board to create, by a separate resolution, a “Sacramento County Racial Equity Policy Cabinet,” that would issue reports to the Board and be responsible for promoting coordination, cooperation and collaboration across County departments and the community to promote racial equity.
The local vote comes at the same time the American Medical Association (AMA) recognized racism as a public health threat and outlined its own plan to address it. New policy created this week calls on the AMA to take prescribed steps to combat racism, including: acknowledging the harm caused by racism and unconscious bias within medical research and health care; identifying tactics to counter racism and mitigate its health effects; encouraging medical education curricula to promote a greater understanding of the topic; supporting external policy development and funding for researching racism’s health risks and damages; and working to prevent influences of racism and bias in health technology innovation.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer