Cleveland’s largest hospitals show support for legislation declaring racism a public health crisis

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — The leaders of all three of Cleveland’s largest hospitals are raising their voices in support of legislation unanimously passed by Cleveland City Council declaring racism a public health crisis.

“It’s uncomfortable for us in our society to face those truths but none the less we’re not meant to be comfortable, were meant to do the right thing,” said Dr. Adam Myers.

The legislation, which passed Wednesday, will form a working group to promote racial equity in Cleveland.

“This is going to change the landscape of our city of our region,” said Dr. Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew of University Hospitals. 

In a statement from the University Hospitals President and CEO, they state, “Our health system sees firsthand how racism disproportionately impacts the health of minority communities, which manifests in higher rates of chronic diseases and infant mortality, and lower life expectancies.”

“We continue to see a decrease across the board in infant mortality in our city, in our county for other races but not for African-Americans and babies of color so we still have a long way to go,” said Dr. Larkins-Pettigrew.

According to First Year Cleveland, there were more than 13,900 babies born in Cuyahoga County in 2019; 120 didn’t celebrate their first birthday. Of those babies, 71 percent were African-American from all socioeconomic levels. 

“It’s clear there are implicit biases and racial bias that are part of the delivery of health care,” said Dr. Myers of the legislation.

He says they have worked vigorously to mitigate and remove those biases but knows there is still work to do. Dr. Myers explained how social determinants of health can impact outcomes in a person’s life similar to how living in a food desert could lead to obesity or diabetes.

“If they have had enduring and repetitive stress and trauma their life then their body internalizes that becomes part of who they are and limits their capacity to endure whatever healthcare challenges come down the road for them,” he explained.

“It’s all of those things that really sets somebody up at a disadvantage for not just access to health care but the outcomes of healthcare that would result even from the best treatment.”

Dr. Larkins-Pettigrew says without healthy mothers and babies, there is no fundamental economic base for the city.

“If we can’t make this change now and pivot so that everyone has equity, not equality but equity if we can’t do it now when?”

Click the links below to read statements issued by all three hospitals:

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