Racism is a Public Health Crisis

October 19, 2022

The Unified Government Public Health Department is taking an important new step in their efforts to address health disparities in Wyandotte County: by declaring racism as a public health crisis. If approved, the Unified Government would join more than 250 other cities, counties and government entities, including Kansas City, Missouri, in making similar declarations.

Wyandot BHN applauds this move by the Health Department. Why does this declaration matter? The declaration not only acknowledges the wide-ranging impacts of racism on public health, but is also paired with accountability and actionable steps to improve health outcomes for our community. Now that we have named racism as an issue affecting public health, we can work to find solutions.

In Wyandotte County, Black residents are dying at higher rates from preventable and manageable diseases compared with white residents, according to the draft resolution. What does that have to do with racism? For centuries, racism has been embedded in our societal systems and policies, which has served to limit the ability of individuals from marginalized groups to attain their highest level of health. Racism inflicts unhealthy levels of stress on the body, which can lead to chronic diseases. That chronic stress and the resulting trauma can negatively impact a person’s mental health. Together, the impact of racism on a person’s physical and mental health can lead to poorer health outcomes and shortened life spans.

In healthcare, marginalized groups too often do not receive the same level of care as their white counterparts. The physical and behavioral health care systems are not properly equipped to care for some of the unique needs of diverse communities. At Wyandot BHN, we are working to make sure everyone can receive the care they need and deserve. In a community as diverse as Wyandotte County, we encounter a number of consumers who come to us looking to heal from the trauma caused by racism. Many of these consumers want to be able to work with a provider who looks like them, which is why it is important to hire a staff that is reflective of the community we serve.

The effects of racism continue to take a toll on the health of the Wyandotte County community. But there are steps that we, as a community, can take to change that. Wyandot BHN is grateful to the Unified Government Public Health Department for their leadership in this effort and looks forward to working alongside them to address health disparities in our community.