Structural Racism: Minnesota pushes for equal health opportunities

By KBJR News 1

February 26, 2014 Updated Feb 26, 2014 at 11:27 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- Is Minnesota's Healthcare system racist?

A new study shows that the system practices institutional racism leaving people of color in Minnesota, in a dangerous situation.

State leaders are working to combat this serious problem they say is deeply rooted in our nation's history.

Dr. Janet Haynes understands how ugly racism can be because she says she and her family have been victims on more than one occasion.

"I watch my son becoming ill, mentally ill, becoming depressed to the point where he had to withdraw from school," Dr. Haynes said. "He had to withdraw two times, and he was just falling apart."

Haynes attributes the changes she saw in her son's mental health to structural racism, which she believes is present in Duluth.

After living in the city for several years, Haynes said she had little choice but to send her son home to Canada where she felt he could grow up under the positive influences of successful African American role models.

"It wasn't an individual behavioral issue; it was a systemic problem in employment, a systemic problem in the community, a systemic problem in the educational system," she said.

A recently released state report, "Advancing Health Equity in Minnesota" shows that people from lower incomes and populations of color are getting sub-standard health care in Minnesota.

The report outlines the disparity and offers a plan to equalize health care.

"We've really excluded from the conversations a lot of populations of color and American Indians," Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said. "Purposefully identifying that and reaching out to them in a whole variety of ways, is going to be part of what we are going to be doing."

The report defines structural racism as being created when decisions are made without accounting for how they might benefit one population over another.

Experts say it's an issue that has historically been swept under the rug.

"When we have tried to explain to people that there are structural problems with how these issues get addressed, we haven't always been met with real receptive audiences," Phil Norgaard, Fond du Lac Band Director of Health said.

Commissioner Ehlinger says more people need to be aware of how and where structural racism is happening.

"Look at the polices with a health equity lens," he said. "It doesn't cost any money, it just says pay attention to what these policies may have on the populations that are disadvantaged."

By getting new people and groups involved in the conversation, Ehlinger says changes toward health equity can begin.

"Down the road I see Minnesota as one those states that leads the nation," he said. "In that everybody has an opportunity, that their health will not be dependent on their income, their skin color, on their education level,

This spring, Commissioner Ehlinger will join other state commissioners in considering ways to include health equity into policy discussions for the 2015 legislative session.

Jennifer Walch
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