OC Racism is A Public Health Crisis
By Dianne Anderson
Ever since George Floyd sparked an awakening of national structural racism, money has been rolling down from on high, from the federal, state, counties and cities to tackle inequality, particularly in areas of health.
Since 2019 when the American Public Health Association drew attention to the health impact of being Black in America, 257 cities and counties have signed on to declare racism as a public health crisis across America.
Orange County is now among the latest to get on board.
While Black people continue to suffer the highest hate crime victimizations over all other groups along with similar health disparities impacts, Asian Americans are also experiencing a sharp increase in hate incidents since COVID-19.
Earlier this month, that hatred spewed at the county board meeting when someone from the audience screamed “Go Back To China” at Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau while he thanked the board for passing the resolution declaring racism as a health crisis.
To which Republican Supervisor Andrew Do spoke out, “Really, go back to China? And you think racism is dead. Really?”
Director Doug Chaffee, Fourth District Supervisor and Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, said the OC Health Care Agency (HCA) has been working on evaluating policies, procedures, and practices to support equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Chaffee said HCA is set to support the Board of Supervisor Offices, OC Community Resources (OCCR), along with other stakeholders to identify and devise a County-wide strategy and plan of action. The plan is to assess the County of Orange’s Agency and Department policies, procedures and practices in support of the declaration and ensure that racial and health equity are core elements of Orange County’s work.
Through their work with the Equity in OC initiative, he said they will continue addressing racism as it relates to access to care.
“The Declaration works to increase awareness of anti-hate activities occurring in the County throughout the years, especially the hate rampant during the last couple of years,” he said in an email. “With increased awareness, more work can be done to counter anti-hate activities.”
The collaboration includes the OC Human Relation Commission organization providing inter-group and violence prevention programs in schools and conflict resolution programs and inter-group relations initiatives in communities all over Orange County. The OC Community Resources and HCA will also offer subject matter expertise services to the public.
Because Blacks have been steadily targeted with race hate, he said efforts were already underway to work, fund and support Black and BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) groups to address the public health crisis before the County passed the recent resolution.
In June of 2021, the OC Health Care Agency was awarded a nearly $23 million grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to address COVID-19 health-related disparities in the higher risk and underserved populations, which lays a foundation to address future pandemics.
“HCA utilized the CDC grant to form the Equity in OC initiative, which advances health equity by bringing together 150 cross-sector, non-traditional and traditional community organizations that have been historically underserved and underrepresented to address the social conditions that contribute to inequities and create solutions that close these equity gaps,” he said.
Through the Equity in OC Initiative, six Population Health Equity Collectives have been formed to address inequities, including Black/African Americans, API, Latinx, LGTBQ+, Older adults, and Individuals with disabilities.
The Initiative is also building capacity of BIPOC organizations through various community-building and funding opportunities, including the Power Building Fund, Organizational Participation Grants, and Social Determinants of Health Implementation Grants.
For years, Blacks have battled the highest rates of health disparities, typically over all other groups.
Orange County resident Darlene Futrel said racism against Blacks is a health crisis, but to her knowledge, she isn’t aware of nonprofits in the county exclusively funded to target the Black community for services.
Futrel, president of the Orange County National Action Network, said more funding must specifically target the Black population because they are the most targeted with hate crime and the highest health inequities.
Other groups routinely receive funding targeting their particular race and community, she said, adding that is exactly how it should be. But, she stressed the Black community has been marginalized for 400 years, and it’s taking a serious health toll.
“Don’t lump us in with BIPOC,” she said. “Be specific about helping Black people because you were specific about your racism against Black people [with] the worst health care. Now it’s time to make amends and be specific about repairing the damage.”
Health inequity hits too close to home for her.
She says her sister went to the hospital with exhaustion, dehydration and frequent urination. She was never diagnosed with diabetes before, and not properly tested that day. Instead, she was sent home from the hospital without treatment, and died that night in her sleep. She was 43.
Futrel said that her blood sugar after death was at 700.
“That’s the inequity of healthcare. That’s what it is like going to ER in Orange County,” she said.
For Equity In OC, see https://www.equityinoc.com/
To see the APHA map, https://www.apha.org/topics-and-issues/health-equity/racism-and-health/racism-declarations
To see OC NAN, https://www.nan-oc.com/