NEW ORLEANS - During today's regular meeting, the Council welcomed Health and Equity Strategists for the New Orleans Health Department Dr. Torrie T. Harris and Dr. Maurice G. Sholas of emPOWER NOLA to discuss the link between historical policy and current health inequities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have deemed both structural and interpersonal racism as fundamental causes of health disease disparities, finding a direct correlation between communities with greater risk of poor health outcomes and access to quality care and treatment options. Citing the national data, today’s presentations provided a historical analysis of predominantly black communities across New Orleans, highlighting centuries-long health and social inequities that have put many racial and ethnic minorities at increased risk of disease.
While New Orleans’ national health ranking has improved over the last decade, the city’s black population and other minority groups continue to lag behind national averages in life expectancy, including higher rates of infant mortality, chronic and preventable illnesses, etc. The life expectancy of New Orleans residents in historically underserved neighborhoods differs as much as 26 years from their counterparts in more affluent areas of the city. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these disparities, shedding light on the enduring effects of systemic racism that continue to plague these once vibrant communities.
Following the presentation, the Council unanimously adopted Resolution R-21-166, asking the Louisiana Department of Health and New Orleans Health Department to study and address the disparate health impacts among black and minority residents, and seek opportunities to use emergency funding to invest in these disproportionately affected communities.
“COVID pulled back the lid on these inequities and showed us as a nation that our black and brown populations face an uphill battle to have basic needs met that many of us take for granted. But, prior to the pandemic, people of color were already suffering critical gaps in service in many of those areas we see as fundamental needs. We’re blessed to have some of the brightest minds on our side, working to engage and educate our communities and begin to mitigate negative effects and address root causes. Together, we will continue to work toward creating routes to prosperity for all New Orleanians and addressing these health barriers on a parallel path with other issues related to systemic racism,” said Council Vice President Donna Glapion.
“The data is clear: the color of your skin can affect the quality of health care that you receive. We must finally confront these realities and demand a path to real equitable care. I thank Councilmember Glapion for her leadership on this issue," said Council President Helena Moreno.
"It is apparent there are disparate health outcomes for New Orleans' poorest communities. If we want a better city, then we need a healthier one," said District "A" Councilmember Joe Giarrusso.
“The structural and economic vestiges of centuries of racial discrimination are real and are manifested in our physical health. From the North Claiborne overpass to the fresh food deserts of the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans bears the scars of Jim Crow and disinvestment more than many other places. Today’s presentations represent the important work that still needs to be done to address those disparities. I hope that our consistent, intentional efforts can create better health outcomes for future generations of New Orleanians," said District "B" Councilmember Jay H. Banks.
“With such overwhelming evidence of racial disparities in health outcomes in our communities, we have a moral imperative to act. Primary among these steps must be a deep inspection of our built environment, and smart, green infrastructure investments moving forward to dismantle structures that contribute to disparities," said District "C" Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer.
“The color of a person’s skin should not dictate their ability to access healthcare or obtain positive health outcomes. People of color are more likely to suffer from chronic and preventable diseases. They also face higher rates of infant mortality. Systemic racism plays an integral role in these disparate health outcomes. Racism is a public health crisis that we must address. Access to quality healthcare should never be dependent on the color of someone’s skin,” said District "D" Councilmember Jared C. Brossett.
"The impacts of systemic racism can be seen plainly both in my district and across the entire City of New Orleans. All of our citizens deserve to be treated with care and respect, now more than ever in the wake of the pandemic. I'm grateful to the presenters for shedding light on this very real and important issue for our community, and look forward to working together with them to finally start to change some of these trends for the better," said District "E" Councilmember Cyndi Nguyen.
“The unequal distribution of resources that has persisted since the founding of our city significantly impacts the physical and mental health of our people. Everyone is impacted by racism, thus it is everyone's responsibility to participate in the undoing of racism in our city. Our lives and the future lives of our children depend on our truth and healing,” said Dr. Harris.
“Public policy and public health are finally catching up to what many have known for a while: racism is a negative social determinant of health. It is a proud day to see the New Orleans City Council begin moving from an agreement in principle that racism is bad for our city to substantive policy on behalf of those marginalized,” said Dr. Sholas.
To view Dr. Harris’ full presentation, click here.
To view Dr. Sholas’ full presentation, click here.
Chief of Staff
Office of Councilmember-At-Large Donna Glapion