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Systemic racism now considered a public health crisis by Utah health care providers

Sandra Lindsay, left, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, is inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine by Dr. Michelle Chester, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in the Queens borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, Pool)

The four major health care systems in Utah made the announcement on Tuesday that systemic racism is a public health crisis. They said the decision came after a year of tragedies, symbolized by the death of George Floyd.

"We as hospitals have decided to do something about it,” said Greg Bell, the President of The Utah Hospital Association.

Bell said MountainStar Healthcare, Steward Healthcare, University of Utah Health, and Intermountain Healthcare are all on the same page.

Dr. Marc Harrison, president of Intermountain Healthcare, said:

If we had any doubt whatsoever about whether race affected the health of communities and individuals, the pandemic has absolutely clarified that."

They said in Utah, Hispanics make up about 14% of the population, but 24% of COVID-19 cases. And there are similar trends in native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.

The disparities go beyond the pandemic, black infants are three times more likely to die if cared for by a white physician.

Dr. Michael Good, CEO and dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, said:

We believe that systemic anti-black racism is one of the major causes of health disparities that we observe in our society."

Good said it's not the color of someone's skin, or the language they speak, that makes someone more at risk for COVID-19 or other illnesses. It’s the social determinants, like how they live and what food, travel, or medical sources they have.

Dr. Good said:

Being anti-racist is not something one individual or one organization becomes overnight. Being anti-racist takes an ongoing commitment. And that today, I believe, is the takeaway statement that we are committed to this issue and to sustaining our efforts to make changes that are needed."

The healthcare providers say one way to combat the many disparities in healthcare is to make staff and leadership reflect the diversity in the community.

"Accelerating colleagues' advance of people of color and women in leadership and filling the pipeline with a more diverse and robust talent at all levels,” said Gregory Angle, the President of MountainStar Healthcare.

Each hospital system is making their own changes to achieve their goals of equity on healthcare.

University of Utah Health said they are starting an anti-racism commission to bridge racial gaps in healthcare, education and research, among other areas.

Creating more diversity in staff and leadership is a goal of all four healthcare systems. They said they will be focusing on advancing people of color, as well as creating a pipeline of diverse caregivers.

The hospitals also said they will be hiring new positions who will focus on eliminating racial disparities and reaching more diversity and equity in Utah's healthcare system.

Dr. Arlen Jarrett, Steward Healthcare chief medical officer, said:

I expect to see added diversity on our boards and on our management teams. And I believe these are ways that will help us learn what we do not know."

They representatives of the hospitals said the coalition behind the concern of systemic racism as a public health crisis is a substantial step up and could lead to change in our culture.