Canal Winchester may declare racism a public health crisis

SCOTT GERFEN
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ThisWeek group

After hearing from community members, Canal Winchester City Council members appear ready to declare racism a public health crisis.

"Our community is asking us to acknowledge that racism is a public health crisis and that it is happening in our community, and it's time we stop turning a blind eye," council member Jill Amos said during council's Aug. 30 committee-of-the-whole meeting.

A handful of Ohio cities -- including Youngstown and Columbus -- recently declared racism a public health crisis in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

In August, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declared racism is a public health crisis.

Amos asked council members to review a resolution recently adopted by Lithopolis. However, council member Chuck Milliken said he wants an ordinance instead.

"I think a resolution is more of an empty gesture, where an ordinance is more an action," Milliken said. "I want to make sure we get this right."

Before any legislation is drafted, council president Mike Walker said, he wants more information from Franklin County Public Health, which serves Canal Winchester.

The department was one of the first public offices nationally to formally declare racism as a public health crisis in May.

In doing so, it noted Black Ohioans have shorter life expectancies, higher likelihoods of death by heart disease or stroke and higher infant mortality rates, among other indicators.

"This pandemic has certainly shined a light on the fact that we just have these really terrible disparities in health," Franklin County Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola said at the time.

"It's just another stark reminder that if we want to ultimately give everyone that opportunity to lead their healthiest life, we have to get to those root causes."

In June, with an initial $128,500 commitment from county commissioners, officials announced their intentions to hire someone at Franklin County Public Health to focus on equity issues.

Lisa Dent was hired as the new deputy director of equity and inclusion. The new position carries an annual salary of about $80,000.

Dent is reviewing policies and practices within the department to determine whether they promote disparities based on race, disability and/or sexual orientation in marginalized communities.

Columbus Dispatch reporter Mark Kovac contributed to this story

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