Lake County Public Health Department Director Argues Racism Is a Public Health Problem

From Mark Pfister, Executive Director of the Lake County ublic Health department:

Racism is a Public Health Issue

A letter from Executive Director Mark Pfister

Our skin is the largest organ in the body, designed to shield and protect us from the elements of the outside world. Its color is determined by the amount of melanin produced by a specific cell in our body and the reaction to sunlight. Throughout history, however, many people have been deprived of fundamental rights and equitable opportunities because of the color of their skin. This is racism. 

All.  A short, simple word that carries amazing weight.  This word is very intentionally included in the Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center’s mission statement, “Promoting the health and well-being of allwho live, work, and play in Lake County.”  There are many in our community unable to experience their fullest quality of life, held back by the systems that affect them. And if public health is not advancing the health of all, we are failing. 

At our Health Department, we constantly and curiously seek out ways to improve the health of our community and our own operations. One simple quality technique is the “Five Whys.” Basically, you start at an initial problem and keep asking why, up to five times, to get to the root cause of the issue.  Sometimes these are very simple internal processes and we try to find more effective ways of doing things.  Other times, it is much more complex and requires long-term strategies and many partnerships.     

Let’s look at an incredibly nuanced example.  We’ll start downstream at the symptom level—African American residents in Lake County ages 45-74 are more than two times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than our white residents.  As we start asking why multiple times, we head upstream toward root causes.  Asking why reveals immediate factors such as diet and physical activity… asking why again we see access to fresh food and safety… asking why again brings us to topics like employment and earning a living wage. When we keep probing further, we find multi-generational factors within systems such as criminal justice, housing, and education.    

Let’s be clear—many of these upstream factors are rooted in racism that continues to permeate established systems in our society. For this reason, racism is a public health issue. We see Asian-Americans being taunted, harmed, and blamed over COVID-19 fears. We see challenges in health literacy, and we must strive to communicate in ways that resonate with a person’s language and culture.   

I am proud of who we are and what we do at the Health Department, with our incredibly diverse workforce and our continued focus on health equity and addressing the social determinants of health.  We have proudly supported our Inclusion and Diversity Council since 2002, our human resources team has been very intentional to broaden our reach to promote open positions, and last year we invested in unconscious bias training for our managers and employees. 

Our work, however, is not done. Injustices continue to prevail, and health disparities continue to plague our communities. These disparities have been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in response, we co-founded community task force groups with Latinx and African American community leaders to assist us with identifying and implementing solutions. We are in the process of finalizing a new strategic plan with a clear a commitment to go upstream and address the root causes that keep our vulnerable populations from improved health outcomes.   

We are a leading Health Department in our nation and will continue to take whatever steps are needed to advocate for policies that improve health in communities of color, and to assure our employees are positioned well to address these challenges with humility and compassion. 

We have come together in public health to prevent diseases that devastated lives; more than ever before, we need to address fundamental impediments to allexperiencing a healthy life, including racism. These conversations can be difficult, but they are necessary. These conversations can feel awkward, but they are worth having. This is not the first time we have discussed this topic, and it won’t be the last.

A picture I found online this week sums it up well— “If you are tired of hearing about racism, imagine how tired people are of experiencing it.”   


Comments

Lake County Public Health Department Director Argues Racism Is a Public Health Problem — 17 Comments

  1. Another thinly veiled, government endorsed, racist “hate whitey” missive
    attempting to give credence to the “systemic racism” fallacy
    used by the DEMOCRATS/Left to incite all manner of violence with
    the objective of influencing the outcome of the next presidential election.

    It’s not going to work, but that won’t keep them from trying even harder
    the closer we come to 11.3.

    I am very interested to find out which political party Mr. Pfister votes for.

  2. We are in the process of finalizing a new strategic plan with a clear a commitment to go upstream and address the root causes

    Go upstream to get to root causes?
    Well, that’s your problem right there

  3. Let’s do some IQ research and declare black brain’s stunting the result of racism, too.black average 2 standard deviations below average white/asian!

    Solution: deprive white/asian infants oxygen at birth resulting in brain damage so we can all be equal!

  4. Racism is very real. The Black community is being exploited again and again.

    Today, so called leaders, politicians and celebrities will talk change at memorial services while ensuring the status quo in the black neighborhoods as they have done for the last 50 years.

    The real racists talk equality while cementing their “gravy” positions of power and influence by doing absolutely nothing to help the poorest neighborhoods of our inner cities.

    Now we have our spoiled, protected celebrities joining in this latest exploitation.

    The racists holding these communities back are not wearing white hoods, they are hiding in plain sight and are espousing their bullshit to huge crowds today.

    Even a child knows you need a strong tax base to build hospitals, schools and provide quality employment.

    Time to stop the exploitative racism of these so called leaders.

  5. If it’s so fu..I gotta bad here for blacks, why don’t they go back to Africa and get their own cannibal king like Idi Amin or Mugabe?

    That’s what old Abe Lincoln said should be done!

  6. Were eventually going to have white imbeciles wearing hair shirts, self-flagellating with cat-o-nine tails and showing off their ‘I’m not a racist’ stigmata, aren’t we?

  7. Democrats hate everyone.

    Especially black people.

    It’s always been this way and it’s sad that people are allowed to be exploited for wealth and power.

  8. Problems with cardiovascular disease is a direct result of historically Democrat meddling in black lives; whether it’s “soul food”, with roots in Democrat plantation cooking with whatever was available, or it’s attempted segregation and welfare programs like LBJ’s “War on Poverty” where access to healthy foods is nearly impossible in Democrat “food deserts”; Democrat-controlled Urban areas that are entirely unnatural and unhealthy from a psychological or physiological standpoint.

    But Democrats don’t actually care at all. They love keeping people dependent and essentially on lifetime lockdown.

    People can only truly be independent by leaving the inner-city and going back to smaller, more agrarian communities.

    The only ral race issue is that Democrats try very hard to maintain those blue voting areas by keeping people from their freedom.

  9. This seems like it’s out of the scope of what a health department should focus on.

    Almost like it’s some kind of political statement masquerading as science.

    Are people comfortable with that?

    Where have I heard about politics masquerading as science before?

    I’m sure viewers can draw many of their own examples.

    It reminds me a bit of Hitler’s hatred of Slavs, which was completely unscientific and based on his own personal feelings.

    (From here, people could even start a conversation about whether even “real” science could be used for evil purposes and whether it should be.)

    Another example is the “cigarettes are good for you” lie that doctors repeated because the tobacco industry had them in their pockets.

    Since everything in the material universe affects our material bodies in some way, everything could be argued to be a health issue if you’re willing to make the stretch, but that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate.

    Violence is a health issue.

    Car accidents are a health issue.

    What can a health department do about that?

    You see where this is going.

    If nothing is off limits, and everything can be declared a public health problem, we will have tyranny based on “science.”

    In some ways, we’re already there.

    Do big interests (giant transnational corporations, for example) exert any kind of power over the public health community?

    I mourn at the direction of humanity.

    We are becoming more and more like psychopaths and dictators pretending we are doing good.

  10. While your busy atoning for you whiteness.

    This long-winded gibberish from your State Ministry of Health, is nothing more than getting out in front of the hypocrisy of Lockdown, while simultaneously greenlighting mass gathering protests.

    Welcome to the jaw dropping stupidity of the Public Sector.

  11. A valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to distract our attention from the total failure of the public health establishment to prepare for pandemics and to cope with the current one.

  12. The argument posed here is an irresponsible stretch.

    It seems that Pfister was looking for a way to join the ‘in-crowd.’

    Ultimately, he diminishes his and his department’s credibility.

    His conclusions are unsubstantiated medical-hyperbole.

    And that’s an oxymoron that doesn’t stand.

  13. Wow, no wonder the country is as it is, especially if you people are engaged with community and civic life.

    Racism is not a political issue.

    Overeducated?

    That is not a thing.

    If you think it is, that means that you are undereducated.

    Being anti-racism does not mean disliking white people lol

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