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Lane County officials approve resolution acknowledging racism as a public health crisis
  • County officials Wednesday took what both commissioners and community members called a small but necessary step toward dismantling institutional racism.The Lane County Board of Commissioners, acting as the Board of Public Health, approved a resolution to acknowledge racism as a public health crisis.

    Jocelyn Warren, who heads the division of public health for Lane County Health and Human Services, said the county has been working toward the declaration for a while.

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    “This is a long time overdue,” Eric Richardson said before the board discussed the resolution.

    Richardson, the executive director of the Eugene-Springfield NAACP, said everyone is impacted by racism and he hopes the board’s declaration can start help healing people across racial bounds.

    “We’ve all been suffering with decisions and silos that keep us from one another, that keep us from the growth and the excellence that we all can achieve with support from each other,” Richardson said during public comment.

    The resolution lays out reasons why racism is a public health crisis — including “lasting negative consequences” of the state’s racist history and links to adverse health outcomes — and specifies actions the county will take to address systemic racism. Those include:

    Promoting active and authentic engagement with Black, Indigenous and people of color communities on issues of race, ethnicity and health.
    Using an equity lens to form policy recommendations that will demonstrably improve health outcomes in Lane County related to race and ethnicity.
    Obtaining and using more meaningful data in order to better tell the story of Lane County’s BIPOC communities.
    Reviewing and regularly evaluating the county’s equity and diversity requirements for employees with the goal of ensuring that training is mandatory, comprehensive, relevant and incorporated into professional development evaluations; as well as to additionally highly encourage training for all those who represent the county in any capacity.
    Urging other institutions, organizations and governmental bodies to declare racism as a public health crisis and to adopt strategies to reduce the long-term impact of systemic racism.
    Allocating resources to effectively implement these actions.
    Providing biannual updates on these actions at Board of Health meetings.
    Warren said there have been around 200 similar declarations made around the country, including more than 70 at a county level.

    Communities starting passing those in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in police custody by former police officer Derek Chauvin, which sparked a racial reckoning across the U.S., and as it became clear the coronavirus pandemic was disproportionately impacting communities of color.

    Additionally, the CDC called racism a public health crisis earlier this month.

    Pat Farr, who serves as vice chair of the board, said the resolution gives county officials “a platform to base future decisions, future action and future support on.”

    Commissioner Laurie Trieger said it’s important that officials convened as the board of public health to pass the resolution and that it’s crucial for officials to act and help address racism.

    “(Government) built the systems that led to these inequalities and these outcomes, so it’s up to those of us who are in office today to do what we can to dismantle those systems,” she said.

    County officials can do that, she added, by changing policy and committing to dedicating resources.

    As a signal of the board’s priorities for policy and spending, staff said, the resolution passed Wednesday is a sign of that commitment.

    Commissioner Jay Bozievich was the only board member to vote against the resolution and did so out of a concern that it could be seen as an empty declaration that duplicates work items the county already is doing.

    “If we’re already doing all the work that’s called for in this, I see this almost as an unnecessary piece of virtue signaling,” he said.

    The county should include the contents of the resolution in its strategic plan instead of passing them as a declaration, he added.

    The other commissioners expressed understanding for his point of view but said it’s important for the board to publicly state officials are working on the issue and plan to lend energy and resources to addressing it.

    “Stating the words in public for everybody to hear is important, and that is what leadership does,” Commissioner Heather Buch said.

    Farr added the resolution isn’t just a declaration but is backed up by action items.

    Kachina Inman, assistant director for the county’s Health and Human Services department, said what comes next is action at multiple levels.

    The county, she said, will start on community listening and engagement, will soon share the strategic plan for health and human services, will continue work through the racial equity plan and will update the board next week on the community health improvement plan.

    Contact city government watchdog Megan Banta at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @MeganBanta_1.
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