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Health Foundation follows up on disparities and system racism

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A local organization says that the recent incident involving a 9-year-old girl who was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by police highlights the need for change in dealing with health disparities and systemic racism.

The Greater Rochester Health Foundation recently sent a letter out to its supporters and partners pointing to the incident as an example of the need to design systems that can provide compassionate treatment, free from discrimination by race or other identities.

Danette Campbell-Bell, senior program officer with the Health Foundation, says the issues highlighted by this incident and other health disparities in the Rochester-area are often tied to systemic racism.

Campbell-Bell says that when local agencies are looking at providing additional resources to improve the local health and public safety response, they need to first get input from the people who are most impacted by those disparities.

"Look at and listen to what the Black and brown community is telling us about the issues that they are facing," Cambell-Bell says. "They do have answers, but they have been…their voices have been devalued.”

There is an initiative the health foundation is involved in called Healthy and Equitable Futures, which is an effort to address racism and equity issues.

Campbell-Bell says that the Greater Rochester Health Foundation joined Action for a Better Community last year in declaring racism as a public health crisis.  She says it’s important to realize that health disparities are rooted in factors that include poverty and structural racism.

Campbell-Bell says this isn’t something that will be solved through more training. It needs to go deeper than that.

"Until we begin to address the systemic policies, practices and procedures, that are in place, we will still keep getting the same result," Campbell-Bell says. "You can’t train this stuff away, it’s a matter of the heart. When your heart and your spirit and your mind changes, and that shifts, that’s when you begin to see a shift in behaviors and actions."

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.