Northwell Health Declares Racism a Public Health Crisis 

Michael Dowling, CEO and President of Northwell Health
Northwell Health President and CEO at Northwell, Michael J. Dowling said overcoming racism and health disparities is a core philosophy, and it will actively engage with patients and colleagues of color. Northwell

Northwell Health, New York State’s largest healthcare provider and private employer, is taking a stand and has joined 38 other health systems nationwide in declaring racism “a public health crisis.”

On Tuesday, Northwell Health President and CEO at Northwell, Michael J. Dowling said overcoming racism and health disparities is a core philosophy, and it will actively engage with patients and colleagues of color, Newsday reported. 

“It is very important as a leader of a large organization like this to take action and become involved,” said Dowling. “And not just sit idly by and say these things are just OK.” 

He added: “Whether it’s racism, gun violence or immigration, we have a voice that needs to be heard on this.”

Northwell's declaration came in collaboration with Healthcare Anchor Network, a group of health systems nationwide whose aim is to define healthcare leadership standards and promote industry collaboration in order to bring attention to the underlying economic and racial inequities that exist in certain communities. 

Earlier this year, Northwell opened a Center for Gun Violence, with the goal of reducing the nearly 400,000 firearms-related deaths that occur every year in the United States, Newsday reported. The new center’s aim is to shift the paradigm to view gun violence as a public health issue and approach firearm risk industry in a way similar to other other health risk factors, such as smoking, substance abuse and motor vehicle accidents. 

Northwell cited investing, procuring and hiring locally, as their core philosophy in order to overcome systemic racism and the healthcare disparities in the communities it serves. The pandemic brought these disparities into the public interest, the newspaper reported. 

“We’ve known that there is inequity because of access, but the pandemic brought a spotlight on it that can’t be denied,” said Theresa Sanders, president and CEO of the Urban League of Long Island, a non-profit focused on fostering economic equity for black Long Islanders.

Accessibility, a distrust of the health system and lack of insurance are some of the issues many Black and brown people face and were cited as some of the reasons for the existing inequity, Sanders said.

In order to improve health access throughout the region, Northwell plans to set up COVID-19 testing centers at community churches and to work with local school districts in minority areas to offer mental health services.

Dowling said he has been in contact with pastors and health care leaders across the country on finding ways to make health care more equitable, Newsday reported.

Dr. Jennifer Mieres, a senior vice president at Northwell’s Center for Equity of Care, a center Northwell launched a decade ago in order to minimize health disparities communities face and deliver culturally sensitive care. Currently, the center has remote medically trained interpreters to help close the disparity, Mieres explained to the news outlet.

Northwell, which has a workforce of about 61,000 employees, is making it a priority to be there for the community and to have a positive impact, which Dowling is encouraging. "Heads of organizations like I am …we have a responsibility to look broadly across the community and to see those things that are happening… that influence people’s well-being," he told Newsday. 

Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, Yale New Haven Health in Connecticut and RWJBarnabas Health in New Jersey were among the other tri-state area health systems to declare racism a public health crisis as part of the Healthcare Action Network.

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