Healthcare groups call racism a 'public health' concern in wake of tensions over police brutality

Healthcare groups decried the public health inequality highlighted by the dual crises of police brutality against minorities and the disproportionately negative impact of COVID-19 on nonwhite patients. (Getty/Worledit)

After days of protests across the world against police brutality toward minorities sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, healthcare groups are speaking out against the impact of "systemic racism" on public health.

"These ongoing protests give voice to deep-seated frustration and hurt and the very real need for systemic change. The killings of George Floyd last week, and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor earlier this year, among others, are tragic reminders to all Americans of the inequities in our nation," Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association (AHA), said in a statement. 

"As places of healing, hospitals have an important role to play in the wellbeing of their communities. As we’ve seen in the pandemic, communities of color have been disproportionately affected, both in infection rates and economic impact," Pollack said. "The AHA’s vision is of a society of healthy communities, where all individuals reach their highest potential for health … to achieve that vision, we must address racial, ethnic and cultural inequities, including those in health care, that are everyday realities for far too many individuals. While progress has been made, we have so much more work to do."

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The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) also decried the public health inequality highlighted by the dual crises.

"The violent interactions between law enforcement officers and the public, particularly people of color, combined with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on these same communities, puts in perspective the overall public health consequences of these actions and overall health inequity in the U.S.," SHEA said in a statement. Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) executives called for health organizations to do more to address inequities. 

"Over the past three months, the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the racial health inequities harming our black communities, exposing the structures, systems, and policies that create social and economic conditions that lead to health disparities, poor health outcomes, and lower life expectancy," said David Skorton, M.D., AAMC president and CEO, and David Acosta, M.D., AAMC chief diversity and inclusion officer, in a statement.

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"Now, the brutal and shocking deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have shaken our nation to its core and once again tragically demonstrated the everyday danger of being black in America," they said. "Police brutality is a striking demonstration of the legacy racism has had in our society over decades."

They called on health system leaders, faculty researchers and other healthcare staff to take a stronger role in speaking out against forms of racism, discrimination and bias. They also called for health leaders to educate themselves, partner with local agencies to dismantle structural racism and employ anti-racist training.

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