IN FOCUS Discussion: Racism as a public health crisis

In Focus

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Over the past six months, a growing number of health organizations and government agencies have declared racism as a public health crisis.

In January, University of Utah Health joined 19 other healthcare systems to make this declaration in a joint statement. Utah Rep. Sandra Hollins sponsored a joint resolution on this issue during the 2021 legislative session, but it did not make it out of the House.

In April, the director of the CDC made the same declaration in a media statement. On Tuesday, the Salt Lake City Council and Mayor Erin Mendenhall adopted a joint resolution to make this declaration, after it was reviewed and approved by both the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission and Racial Equity in Policing Commission.

So what does this mean? According to the CDC, racism is a “system consisting of structures, policies, practices, and norms that assigns value and determines opportunity based on the way people look or the color of their skin.” Salt Lake City’s joint resolution said racism affects where one lives, learns, works, worships, and plays, which creates inequities in access to a range of social and economic benefits, such as housing, education, wealth, and employment. These are often social determinants of health, shaping access to resources such as education, housing, employment, and medical care.

By making these declarations, these organizations and agencies say they can put a spotlight on disparities that exist within healthcare settings, develop equity plans, confront the systems that have resulted in generational injustice and health inequities, dismantle discriminatory systems, and repair our communities.

Nicole Salazar-Hall and Dr. Line Kemeyou joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for an IN FOCUS discussion. Salazar-Hall is a core commissioner for the Salt Lake City Racial Equity in Policing Commission and commissioner for the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission. Dr. Kemeyou is the assistant dean of health equity, diversity, and inclusion for the University of Utah School of Medicine.

Salazar-Hall and Dr. Kemeyou discussed how a public health crisis is defined, the harmful impacts that racism has on the mental and physical health of communities of color, what led up to their agencies to make the declaration, the consequences and long-term outcomes of these structural inequities, how the COVID-19 pandemic exemplified these disparities, and some of the solutions they’re working towards.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Salazar-Hall and Dr. Kemeyou, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.

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