A Healthier Tomorrow – Racism is a Public Health Crisis

A Healthier Tomorrow – Racism is a Public Health Crisis

Imagine a Healthier Tomorrow

By Alison Page, CEO Western Wisconsin Health

Last month we discussed the social determinants of health. This is the research that tells us what contributes to our overall health. As it turns out, our health is a result of multiple things; socio-economic factors (40%), health behaviors (30%), clinical care (20%), and physical environment (10%). In these numbers you can see why being stuck in low socio-economic status results in poor health. Systemic racism has trapped some Americans in low socio-economic status, thus stacking the deck against them when it comes to living a healthy life. I would say more, but our State Medical Society has said it so well.

The following is a statement released June 4, 2020 by the Wisconsin Medical Society:

“I can’t breathe.” These were the harrowing last words of an American, George Floyd, spoken as a system deprived him of life. The systemic racist structure failed the promise of life to this American. Racism is a constant threat to health, medical care and longevity in America. The Wisconsin Medical Society, driven by our mission of health to Wisconsinites, declares racism to be a Public Health Crisis and calls for equity in health.

Racism threatens health. Racism worsens the social determinants of health, including housing, employment, education, community and neighborhood, food and medical care. Poor housing, including homelessness, results in illnesses such as diabetes and asthma. Unemployment increases heart disease risks and overall mortality; poor education increases death from diabetes; physical space loss for exercise increases childhood obesity; and food deserts significantly increase African-American obesity. The greatest health threat faced today in COVID 19 has further revealed these profound disparities demonstrated by the disproportionate mortality in communities of color.

The human toll is destructive and untenable. To move forward, we must take a stand against racism. In doing so, we stand in solidarity with organizations across the state and our country condemning racism, injustice, and health disparities.

With the American Medical Association (AMA), we know racism is detrimental to health in all its forms.

With the American College of Gynecology (ACOG), we acknowledge that people of color face threats to their health and well-being daily across Wisconsin and the United States.

With the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), we have seen that over the past three months, “the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the racial health inequities harming our black communities, exposing the structures, systems, and policies that create social and economic conditions that lead to health disparities, poor health outcomes, and lower life expectancy.”

With the American Psychiatric Association (APA), we stand “with the Black community and all those opposed to racism to protect and improve the lives of those who have experienced discrimination and the associated trauma.”

With the American Nurses Association (ANA), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and other health care organizations, we consider racism a Public Health Crisis.

Black lives matter. To remain silent is to be complicit.

The Wisconsin Medical Society refuses to be complicit or indifferent on this issue. Daily, physicians see the tragedy of lost health from systemic racism in our community. We proclaim the “thoughts and prayers” approach to racism to be complicit with systemic racism. The Rabbi Abraham Joshua Hershel clarified the act of complicity well when he said, “The opposite of good is not evil, the opposite of good is indifference.”

Change requires action. As such, we are in solidarity with AAMC, and join them in the key actions outlined below:

  • We must acknowledge and speak out against all forms of racism, discrimination, and bias in our environments in our institutions, communities, and society.
  • We must stand in solidarity with the black community and speak out against unjust and inhumane incidents of violence.
  • We must demonstrate empathy and compassion and acknowledge the pain and grief that the families and the communities of these victims are experiencing.
  • We must take the lead in educating ourselves and others to address these issues head on.
  • We must be deliberate and partner with local communities, public health agencies, and municipal governments to dismantle structural racism and end police brutality.
  • We must employ anti-racist and unconscious bias training and engage in interracial dialogues that will dispel the misrepresentations that dehumanize our black community members and other marginalized groups.
  • We must move from rhetoric to action to eliminate the inequities in our care, research, and education of tomorrow’s doctors.

As the voice of physicians in the state of Wisconsin, we resolve to make health equity a priority. The Wisconsin Medical Society stands with all Wisconsinites for healing and for the elimination of racism in all its forms.