The Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens Council 47013 is calling on Clark County and its cities to formally declare racism a public health crisis.
The Southwest Washington chapter of LULAC sent a letter to those municipalities, stating that racism negatively affects the health of people of color, and results in major health disparities.
LULAC chapter President Ed Hamilton Rosales said declaring racism a public health crisis could open funding avenues from the state’s emergency crisis model to address racism in Clark County.
Negative disparities for people of color are present throughout health care, but have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for Black and Latino people.
In Washington, 44 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases are Hispanic, while the state’s Hispanic population in only 13 percent Hispanic, according to state Department of Health data.
A similar disparity exists in Clark County, where about 25 percent of cases are Hispanic, while only 10 percent of the county’s population is Hispanic.
LULAC’s letter states that Hispanic residents have a nearly 7 percent higher death rate than non-Hispanic white people in Clark County, according to Clark County Public Health data.
“The roots of racism impact the health of people of color in every aspect of their lives, including access to education, housing, and job opportunities,” the letter reads. “We are seeing this play out during the COVID-19 pandemic, with communities of color being infected with the virus at disproportionately high rates due to lack of access to adequate health services, including coronavirus testing and treatment.”
Hamilton Rosales said racism takes a toll on health in many different ways.
People of color are more likely to encounter barriers to health care access and are more likely to have their pain dismissed by doctors when they do get care.
In more recent years, the concept of weathering is also starting to gain traction in the medical field. Weathering goes beyond just acknowledging the barriers and biases that exist in health care.
Weathering, in this health definition, means small and large stressors encountered by living in a racist society take a toll on the physical body, eroding health over time.
Black women, who encounter discrimination for being Black and being a woman, have major health disparities in several areas, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“A Black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer, and 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes,” according to a 2017 ProPublica story.
LULAC’s letter comes a little more than a week after Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring stated publicly that she does not believe that systemic racism exists in Clark County.
Hamilton Rosales said there needs to be more acknowledgment from Clark County, its cities and its institutions that systemic racism exists for the county to make progress on fighting racism.
“Addressing racism as a public crisis will help every single person in Clark County because it is about fighting oppression and hatred,” the letter reads. “By declaring racism as a public health crisis, we can begin to eliminate racism, which is at the root of so many horrific policies. Officially recognizing the role that race plays in public health is a crucial first step.”