NYC Board of Health declares racism a public health crisis

Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, Commissioner of the City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  August 2020 file photo.
Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, Commissioner of the City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. August 2020 file photo. Photo credit Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The New York City Board of Health has declared racism a public health crisis.

The 11-member board voted to pass a resolution on the declaration Monday, requesting the city’s Health Department to expand its efforts to combat racism’s impact on health outcomes.

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“To build a healthier New York City, we must confront racism as a public health crisis,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, a member on the board.

The declaration was at least partially inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which people of color suffered disproportionately. Studies have shown that Black Americans are more likely to be infected and killed by the virus, according to data cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of dying from COVID-19," the CDC posted on its website.

The board — featuring members appointed by the mayor for six-year terms — recommended a seven-step plan for the Health Department to embark on anti-racism research, outreach and programming.

“The COVID-19 pandemic magnified inequities, leading to suffering disproportionately borne by communities of color in our city and across our nation," Chokshi added. "But these inequities are not inevitable. Today is [a] historic day for the country’s oldest Board of Health to officially recognize this crisis and demand action.”

The recommendations include having the Health Department conduct research and acknowledgment of “examples of its historic role in divesting and underinvesting in critical community-led health programs” and then undertake “a truth and reconciliation process with communities harmed by these actions when possible,” according to a news release on the resolution.

It also orders the Health Department to deliver reports twice a year to the board on anti-racism progress.

Some of the resolutions orders the Health Department to continue ongoing efforts, including to advise other agencies on “structural racism within policies, plans and budgets related to all determinants of health” — that includes housing, transportation and education, among other related topics — and make recommendations to mitigate harm from those politices.

“We’ve seen for years the negative impact racism has in our public health data and today, we’re recommitting ourselves to building a more equitable City,” said First Deputy Commissioner and Chief Equity Officer Dr. Torian Easterling. “I thank the Board of Health for sharing our commitment to dismantling systemic racism.”