Racism is a public health crisis, and it’s time CT treated it like one.

By Frances G. Padilla

This text was originally given as testimony on Connecticut House Bill 6662: An Act Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis and Establishing the Commission on Racial Equity in Public Health

At Universal Health Care Foundation, we envision health care that takes excellent care of all of us when we are sick, helps to keep us healthy, and does not threaten our financial security. We believe that health care should put people first and be accountable to provide quality care for everyone regardless of income, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, language of preference, immigration status, and geography.

We support the declaration of racism as a public health crisis.

We know that racism and all the forms in which it manifests threaten the health, well-being and lives of Black and brown communities that are an integral part of the fabric of our state.

Racism meets all three criteria of a public health crisis…

1. Racism affects large numbers of people;

2. Racism threatens health over the long term; and

3. Racism requires the adoption of large-scale solutions.

Decades and centuries of income inequality and discrimination in areas like education and housing have created institutionalized risk for Black and Latinx people. The pandemic has exacerbated this risk and provided an outsized example of how racism is a public health crisis.

My written testimony elaborates on the many structural barriers Black and Brown people face in health care. In the interest of time, suffice it to say that on practically every indicator of public health Black and Brown people have less of the good and more of the bad in proportion to our representation in the larger population.

Black and Latino residents experience higher rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths, because they are more likely to work in “essential” frontline jobs, live in more crowded housing and suffer from health conditions that can make COVID-19 infection more deadly.

Black and brown communities consistently have structural barriers when it comes to their health. Black and brown people are less likely to have health insurance and more likely to encounter implicit bias in their interactions with health care providers. Both of these could have deadly results.

Lack of insurance often means that people are not receiving care, especially preventive care and care that could identify serious health problems early. This could lead to early death from preventable causes.

Implicit bias in interactions with the health care system can also be fatal — if a Black or brown person is not taken seriously by their doctors, they may not get appropriate treatment. This can also lead to preventable death.

Black and brown people are also more likely to suffer health disparities — for example: high Black maternal and infant death rates, inequities in cancer, asthma, heart and lung diseases, and struggles with deteriorating mental and physical health. Add to that police brutality and environmental racism and it is clear that racism is a public health crisis.

Many of these inequities are a life or death matter, reducing the lifespan of Black and brown people.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We must examine our policies through an equity lens and pass new policy to address structural racism. By declaring racism a public health crisis, Connecticut owns the circumstances for what they are — an emergency — and the declaration can create real action.

Declaring racism as a public health crisis is only one step in the journey to making our state anti-racist. There must be action that aligns with this declaration. We must also pass anti-racist policy, ensure our institutions and systems operate under and espouse anti-racist values, and dismantle racism in our culture. For example,

· Every public policy should be subject to a racial equity impact assessment tool.

· Every health care provider licensed in the state of CT should be required to accept Medicaid as a form of insurance.

· Data should be collected by health care institutions to track, measure and correct the cultural incompetency of their providers, and such data should be reported to the state.

· State funding should be contingent on such collection and reporting.

· Every member of our state’s population — regardless of income or legal status should have the coverage they need to access quality health care.

There are many policies and practices needed to dismantle racism and this is why we support the Commission on Racial Equity in Public Health that would be created under this bill.

The Commission would bring together cross-sector members of the Executive Branch to create a strategic plan to eliminate health disparities.

Membership of the commission must include community members to inform the work and solution generation from their lived experience and advance a justice agenda. Ensure that it is staffed and funded. We can’t afford not to invest. This is what it will take to address racism. We must maintain the Commission how ever long it takes to deal with racism in our state, which will require close and rigorous ongoing vigilance.

Racism is an insidious enemy, embedded in our society. We must do everything we can, use every tool we have at our disposal, and root out racism in all its forms — structural and interpersonal. The trauma of racism impacts all of us, but our Black and brown communities most of all. Now that we know better, we must do better.

I implore the Committee to vote favorably on HB 6662.

Universal Health Care Foundation of CT fights on the front lines of health care activism and policy, because health care is a right everybody in Connecticut and beyond should enjoy. Join us here for more content and action opportunities.