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Department of Health Services

For Immediate Release

Board of Supervisors set to discuss declaring racism as a public health crisis

SANTA ROSA, CA | March 08, 2024

Preparing to join hundreds of cities and counties across the United States, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors at its March 12 meeting will consider adopting a resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis. Naming racism as a health crisis and committing to eliminate it within Sonoma County is considered another important step on the path to equity.

“This resolution complements the equity work underway in county departments and by our community partners to eliminate racism,” said David Rabbitt, chair of the Board of Supervisors. “The county is committed to continuing this important work and further understanding the connection between race, racism, and health and well-being.”

The COVID pandemic made visible the disproportionate health impacts borne by communities of color. Black people, who make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for 25 percent of COVID-19 deaths. That is 2.3 percent more than white people, who represent around 60 percent of the county’s population.

“The health consequences of racism are staggering,” said Director of Health Services Tina Rivera. “Sonoma County’s system of care serves populations that are disproportionately people of color who routinely experience the traumatic effects of systemic racism. Poverty, inadequate access to housing, employment and good health, as well as the likelihood of intersections with the justice system, are unacceptable and, unfortunately, common outcomes of institutional racism.”

At the Board of Supervisors meeting, Director Rivera will talk about why this work is important to her, and how her personal experiences as a Black woman have impacted her and the way she approaches her job as the leader of the county health system.

Examples of county health disparities

The 2021 update to the Portrait of Sonoma County highlighted the following ways in which racism impacts health and the social drivers of health in Sonoma County:

  • Black people live 10 fewer years than any other racial and ethnic group in the county;
  • Black and Latinx children are about 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts;
  • Black people are 2.3 times more likely to be without health insurance and Latinx people are 4.1 times more likely to be without health insurance than white people; and
  • People of color are overrepresented in our county’s unhoused population, with 12 percent of unhoused persons being Native American/Alaska Native and 8 percent Black compared to the county population of which 2 percent is Native American/Alaska Native and 2 percent is Black.

These outcomes are the result of centuries of laws, policies and systems that disadvantage people of color.

Looking forward

Declaring racism a public health crisis is intended to further increase attention to the health disparities, change the narrative from blaming the victims to changing the system, and uplift the strategies that are already underway and those to come, including:

  • Adopting and implementing a Health Equity Action Plan, Community Health Assessment and Community Health Improvement Plan;
  • Fostering a county organizational culture that supports achieving racial equity through investments in learning and leadership programs;
  • Identifying and deploying best practices that promote racial equity in all community- and internal-facing services;
  • Strengthening relationships and partnerships with community-based organizations that are confronting racism;
  • Promoting early and ongoing community involvement by engaging communities most impacted by racism;
  • Establishing consistent collection, analysis and reporting of data to evaluate and measure progress towards eliminating racial inequities; and
  • Ensuring that the County of Sonoma workforce reflects county demographics.

The Declaring Racism as a Public Health Crisis resolution aspires to deepen and further the county’s understanding of the intersection between racism and health. It does not ask for additional investment, resources or re-direction of existing funds.

“The primary goal of the resolution is to clarify the need to do more to prevent the trauma and harm associated with racial inequity,” said Director Rivera. “We want to ensure that all of the residents of our beautiful and resource-rich county have an equitable opportunity to achieve their highest levels of health and well-being.”

Read the presentation and the resolution here.

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Media Contact:
Sheri Cardo, DHS Communications Specialist
(707) 565-8619