COLUMBUS, Ohio — Franklin County Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola says recognizing the issue is a significant step forward. 

“The gap between African Americans and others, in particular in some zip codes can be up to 15, 20 years of life expectancy. Those institutional policies, practices, lead to things like lower education, lower income, less ability to own a home,” said Mazzola. 

    What You Need To Know

    • The Franklin County Board of Health recently declared racism as a public health crisis, saying the issue has led to a health divide for people of color in our state

    • The board has committed to 17 different actions moving forward 

    • As of April, Columbus reported African Americans accounted for 38 percent of hospitalizations from COVID-19 

“In Ohio, Detroit and New York, we see marginalized people who don't perhaps have the same access too healthcare or testing who become sick. There's a lot of fear with COVID-19 in different communities where people are afraid to seek healthcare if they have these symptoms,” said Ohio Health Medical Director of Infectious Disease, Joseph Gastaldo 

Franklin County's declaration includes steps to address the issue, disparities within the agency and how it provides services to residents. 

The board has committed to 17 different actions. A couple of them include:

  • Create a equity and justice-oriented organization 
  • Advocate for relevant polices that improve health in community of color  
  • Work to build alliances and partnerships with other organizations that are confronting racism 
  • Promote racially equitable economic and workforce development practices

Community leaders say the resolution was in the works for the better part of two years, but a public health crisis has helped amplify it.

“When you think of health disparities specifically, like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, stroke, and other heart diseases, chronic diseases, what we know is these are things that can be prevented with the right type of wellness efforts, with the right type of attention,” said Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce. 

Jillian Olinger, of the YWCA, has spent the past decade working with marginalized communities in central Ohio.

In a recent editorial, she says taking action now can remedy the wrongs of the past and lead to a healthier and more equitable future. 

“The step that the county has taken in declaring racism as a public health crisis is a big step, a welcome step. There are a lot of partners in the community, especially agencies and organizations whose mission is social justice, stand ready to take up and partner with the county on these efforts,” said Olinger. 

Cleveland City Council is also considering its own ordnance to declare racism a public health crisis.

Boyce says it's not only an Ohio problem, but a national problem as well, but taking action is what counts.

“We're calling upon the governor, we're calling upon the speaker of the House, we're calling upon the president of the Senate, both Ohio chambers, to follow suit. You talk about the cities, hopefully our state leaders can also respond and take the appropriate action,” said Boyce. 

You can read the declaration here: