Gov. Whitmer Recognizes Racism as a Public Health Crisis in Michigan

The governor also signed an executive order to create the Black Leadership Advisory Council
racism public health michigan
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at today’s press conference. // Photograph courtesy of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Today, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive directive that declares racism a public health crisis in Michigan. The directive requests that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services makes healthy equity a major goal and requires implicit bias training for state employees.

 

“This pandemic has confirmed and highlighted the deadly nature of pre-existing inequities caused by systemic racism,” said Whitmer during a press conference, adding that Covid-19 is four times more deadly for Black residents than white ones. “This reflects longstanding, deep, societal economic, and environmental disparities.”

 

Under the directive, the MDHHS will work with state departments to examine data; develop and plan policies; and engage, communicate, and advocate for communities of color. Additionally, all current state employees — including Whitmer and her entire execute office staff — must take implicit bias training. New employees will be required to complete the training within 60 days of being hired.

 

“Implicit bias is simply an unconscious bias that exists in each one of us,” Whitmer said. “And as public servants, we have a duty to understand how those tendencies impact our actions and the lives of others. This is not alleging that people are racist. …This is recognizing that everyone has biases from where we grew up or how we were raised. It’s just a fact.”

racism public health michigan
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services chief deputy for health, speaks at today’s press conference. // Photograph courtesy of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

 Whitmer also signed an executive order to create the Black Leadership Advisory Council, which will aim to elevate Black voices in state government. Whitmer said she will work closely with the council to develop policies and new opportunities for Black Michiganders. Those interested in being on the council can apply at michigan.gov/appointments. The deadline for applications is 5 p.m. on Aug. 19.

 

The governor was joined by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist; Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services chief deputy for health; and Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley during today’s press conference.  

 

Khaldun said that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by health conditions, including cancer mortality, heart disease, diabetes, maternal and infant mortality, and now, COVID-19. “The statistics are staggering, and we must do better,” she said. “And let’s be clear, these disparities have nothing to do with genetics and race. They’re due to unequal treatment and racism that have plagued our society for centuries. Declaring racism as a public health crisis means that we will and must tackle this with urgency and intention.”

 

Today’s announcements come weeks after Whitmer signed an executive order that directed the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to develop rules that will require healthcare professionals in Michigan to undergo implicit bias training. Implicit bias training was one of the recommendations made by the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, which is led by Gilchrist. 

 

To watch the entire conference, click here.

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