Photo: SMReid/Shutterstock

Franklin County, Ohio, Declares Racism a Public Health Crisis

by Eben Diskin May 21, 2020

In Franklin County, Ohio’s most populated county, officials passed a resolution on May 19, 2020, declaring racism a public health crisis.

The new declaration is part of the Rise Together Blueprint for addressing poverty in Central Ohio. It comes just one week after the Franklin County Board of health also declared racism a public health crisis.

In a statement, Commissioner Kevin L. Boyce said, “Racism has been a pandemic long before the current coronavirus pandemic. Our declaration today is important, but it’s not saying anything that hasn’t been apparent for a long time. COVID-19 has highlighted the health divide between black and white Ohioans, however, and I hope that it can be the catalyst we need to reform the whole health system so that it works for all of us equally.”

The declaration identifies two types of racism: individualized and systemic racism. Individualized racism is considered internal while systemic racism is a community model that assigns values and provides opportunity based on someone’s appearance.

According to the commissioners, both types of racism have seeped into the housing, education, criminal justice, and employment sectors. The resolution explains that “the Franklin County Rise Together Blueprint noted Franklin County’s African American residents experience dramatically higher unemployment rates (Overall: 5.7%, African-Americans: 11.1%), face a higher poverty rate as a community (Overall: 16.7%, African-Americans: 29.9%), have lower home ownership rates (Overall: 53.6%, African Americans: 33.4%), are more likely to live in neighborhoods with low performing schools and experience disproportionately higher incarceration rates (Overall: 223 per 100,000, African-Americans: 637 per 100,000).”

But both types of racism have also had far-reaching consequences on the health of people of color in Franklin County, where Black residents have a lower life expectancy than White residents; are more likely to die prematurely, have higher levels of infant mortality and lower birth weights, are more likely to be overweight or obese. In Franklin County, black residents are hospitalized at twice the rate of other demographic groups during the coronavirus crisis, the resolution explains.

John O’Grady, President of the Board of Commissioners, said in a statement, “Our community’s success depends on all Franklin County residents being able to share in it, but right now we have a system that is resulting in different outcomes for people based on the color of their skin. That’s not acceptable.”

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