The Spokane Regional Health District’s Board of Health has declared racism a public health crisis.
In an unanimous decision, the members adopted a resolution listing actions they would like the Spokane Regional Health District to take to address historical inequities in health for Black, Indigenous and other people of color.
The health district will incorporate an “equity lens” to current and new programs and policies, the resolution states. Additionally, the health district is to “provide institutional means for community-based organizations and individual community members most impacted by racism to participate in decision-making for programs, policies, services, interventions, and materials.”
Health education and communication from the district will include information not only about healthy or unhealthy behaviors but also the social determinants of health.
Internally, the health district is to implement an all-staff development program that educates employees about the “core competencies in health equity, cultural competency, and anti-racism.” The resolution also directs the health district to recruit and hire a staff that looks like the community it serves.
“The policy came out stronger going out than going in,” Spokane City Council member Betsy Wilkerson said during the virtual board meeting on Thursday.
Spokane Valley City Council Member Linda Thompson voiced her support for the resolution and said that inserting the action items for the health district were important to her.
Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns also supported the resolution .
“This is an important document not only for this agency but for the community,” Kerns said. “So I wanted to make sure we could be proud of the product we put out there and that this really shows this entity and community’s commitment to the health and well-being of everybody.”
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs, who has been on the board of health for five years, said that the killing of George Floyd prompted the executive committee to draft the resolution, even though racial equity has been discussed at the health district.
Beggs said the resolution is binding in the sense that the board of health sets policy for the health district, not specifically telling staff what to do, but outlining the broad policy.
“It is setting the policy of the health district in the most aggressive way the board can,” Beggs said.
Three board members were absent from the meeting on Thursday, including Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick, Commissioner Al French and board member Andrea Frostad.
Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
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