Lane County declares racism a public health crisis

The Lane County Board of Commissioners voted on Wednesday to declare racism a public health crisis.

Posted: Apr 21, 2021 10:30 AM
Updated: Apr 21, 2021 12:46 PM

EUGENE, Ore. – The Lane County Board of Commissioners voted on Wednesday to declare racism a public health crisis, despite one commissioner who voted against the resolution calling it "virtue signaling."

The resolution was adopted during a joint meeting of the Board of Health and Board of Commissioners. Ahead of the vote, several people testified virtually in support of the resolution, including a perinatal health researcher who highlighted how racism has led to negative health outcomes for the BIPOC community.

According to staff notes in the resolution, data show that racial and ethnic minority groups experience higher rates of illness and death across a wide range of health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, and heart disease, when compared to their white peers.

Eric Richardson, executive director of the Eugene/Springfield NAACP, said he appreciated the board addressing the issue at such a high level.

“I commend the fact we are even having this conversation at this level,” Richardson said. “We just hope that understanding racism as a public health crisis is going to go a long way towards healing across racial bounds.”

While the resolution provides no funding, Board Vice Chair Pat Farr said it will be used as a guide when making future decisions. 

“I’m looking forward not to what this is, but where this goes,” Farr said.

Board Chair Heather Buch noted before the vote that the board itself lacks diversity.

“It is clear we don’t have a lot of folks of color in positions of power in our local governments. That is the lens with which I’m coming to this resolution,” Buch said.

Buch said that issues revolving race are not frequently brought before the board, and that’s partly why a resolution like this is necessary.

Commissioner Jay Bozievich voted against the resolution, calling it "virtue signaling" and suggesting the county already does many of the things included in the resolution.

The resolution calls for several actions, including:

1. Promote active and authentic engagement with BIPOC communities on issues of race, ethnicity and health.
2. Use an equity lens to form policy recommendations that will demonstrably improve health outcomes in Lane County related to race and ethnicity.
3. Obtain and use more meaningful data in order to better tell the story of Lane County’s BIPOC communities.
4. Review and regularly evaluate 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.
5. Urge 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.
6. Allocate resources to effectively implement these actions.
7. Provide biannual updates on these actions at Board of Health meetings.

You can read the full resolution here.

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