Selectmen considering request to declare racism a public health crisis

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

BEACON FALLS — Officials are considering whether to adopt a resolution that declares racism a public health crisis.

The Board of Selectmen this month received a request from resident Barbara Berkowitz to enact a resolution or ordinance that makes that declaration as a step toward addressing systemic racism.

The proposed resolution decrees that racism is a root cause of poverty and constricts economic mobility; racism has intensified a health divide; and the collective well-being of Beacon Falls depends upon equitable access to opportunity for every resident regardless of skin color.

The proposal calls on the Board of Selectmen to assert that racism is a public health crisis, work to enhance diversity, promote equity through board policies, and to advocate for policies that improve health in communities of color.

“Based on my personal experiences and my 43 years of professional experience as a clinical and forensic psychologist, I have seen many instances of how our health care and social services systems do not provide equal access to all citizens,” said Berkowitz, who earned her doctorate at 25 years old from University of Buffalo in 1972.

The resolution is part of a movement spurred by Health Equity Solutions, a Hartford-based nonprofit organization that advocates for equitable health care access.

Health Equity Solutions Director of Policy Karen Siegel said the organization has reached out to residents in about 40 municipalities to help lead local efforts to get the resolutions adopted in their towns.

Siegel said the initiative started as a result of the nationwide movement against racial injustice sparked by the death of George Floyd at the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

“You can’t address a problem until you acknowledge it,” Siegel said.

The organization also submitted a petition to Gov. Ned Lamont calling for the state to take action and dismantle racism in order to achieve health equity, Siegel said.

Since June, 15 municipalities have adopted the resolution, according to Siegel. Windsor was the first local government to pass the resolution, she said.

“A lot of larger of cities have actually adopted it,” First Selectman Gerard Smith said during the board’s Aug. 10 meeting.

The board sent the proposal to the town’s legal counsel for review. The selectmen are expected to discuss it at a future meeting.

Berkowitz, who has lived in town for 11 years, said the resolution is a good start to acknowledging and addressing systemic racism.

“Access to good things and good health care shouldn’t be based on someone’s skin color,” Berkowitz said. “It should be based on what’s in one’s heart and soul.”