Board of Health to pursue resolution on racism as public health issue

Action would mirror King County

PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County Board of Health will draft a resolution declaring racism a public health issue.

A subcommittee made up of Jefferson County District 1 Commissioner Kate Dean, Jefferson Healthcare Commissioner Dr. Kees Kolff and Denis Sterns, a member of the Jefferson Board of Health, will draft the resolution for presentation at the board’s meeting at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 20.

The resolution will be similar to one King County recently passed.

The King County Board of Health released its resolution last month following weeks of nationwide protests calling for the end of systemic racism in the wake of several deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police.

The King County resolution says the board recognizes the harmful impacts of institutional racism that have been ingrained into nearly every aspect of American society, including access to health care for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), and it signifies a commitment to dismantle those systems and build better relationships with the BIPOC communities it serves.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health followed with its own resolution, joining thousands of county health boards across the country.

“Much more important is what counties are doing to try and examine the underlying issues of racial justice and institutional racism and the way that impacts community health and access to health services,” said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

Dean said Jefferson County commissioners and staff are working on a plan to address systemic racism. The plan would include having conversations with the BIPOC community in a county that is 93 percent white, she said.

“A couple of groups have been meeting within the county as an organization, saying, how can we educate ourselves and examine our policies and practices within the county to do what we think this moment in time is asking us to do, which is look at our personal and institutional roles that perpetuate racism?” Dean said.

Public health is a huge part of the discussion, she said.

“Statements of support and intent are sincere and welcome, but really what counts is action at this point in history, and it takes time to develop action,” Locke said.

Many of the board members agreed but also noted the community has waited to hear from them on this topic for a while, and that the resolution is an action that could hold the board accountable going forward.

“Formal recognition, holding ourselves to something and having something others can hold us accountable for has some real value, and I think that speaks pretty loudly right now,” Dean said.

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Ken Park can be reached at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

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