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Local health districts affirm racism’s role in disparate medical outcomes

The Richmond & Henrico Health Districts Nurse Manager Amy Popovich speaks during a remote press conference on Thursday.
The Richmond & Henrico Health Districts Nurse Manager Amy Popovich speaks during a remote press conference on Thursday. (Zoom screenshot)

The Richmond & Henrico Health Districts often highlights policies it hopes will make healthcare access more equitable in the region. And health district Nurse Manager Amy Popovich said they’ll keep doing so.

“I’m speaking for our local values, I can’t speak for other localities and central office,” Popovich said at a virtual Thursday press briefing. “But I can say at Richmond-Henrico Health District[s], we acknowledge that structural and interpersonal racism contributes to health disparities, and we will continue to work to address that.”

Her comments come on the heels of Virginia Department of Health Commissioner Colin Greene being criticized after The Washington Post quoted him downplaying the role of racism in public health outcomes.

Most recently, the local districts announced $230,000 in grantsto community organizations working to address health inequities. The cash comes from Richmond’s Health Equity Fund, established last year with $5 million from the federal American Rescue Plan, with a goal to “address health disparities and racial injustice in our communities by funding innovative, community-led projects.”

The grants include $50,000 for Crossover Healthcare Ministry to provide bilingual assistance to clients, and $90,000 to assist Nolef Turns with crisis and transitional housing for Richmonders returning from incarceration with substance-use disorders. The Richmond Behavioral Health Authority also received $90,000 to extend mental health services to two of its three satellite clinics serving lower-income communities.

The health districts are accepting nominations for another round of grants to community-led programs through July 16.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney chimed in on social media regarding Greene’s dismissal of racism’s role in disparate medical outcomes. He condemned the commissioner for referring to gun violence as a “Democratic talking point” in The Washington Post article and called for Greene to recognize research showing race as a major factor in health outcomes.

“The impact of racism on public health disparities among people of color is not anecdotal or subjective, it’s science,” Stoney wrote in the statement. “Hiding from these realities doesn’t make them go away.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides documentation on the intersection of racism and health, including a selection of government and independent research. The organization said a “growing body of research … demonstrates that racism itself — above and beyond other social determinants of health — negatively impacts health outcomes.”

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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