Report: Not all in Minnesota have opportunity to be healthyPublished 9:41am Tuesday, January 21, 2014
By Lorna Benson and Jon Collins
MPR News, 90.1FM
The Minnesota Department of Health has released a draft version of a report to the Legislature that recommends revamping the state’s approach to health at all levels of government to eliminate health disparities between racial and ethnic groups.
The 64-page document cites state policies that it found have prevented African-Americans, American Indians and members of other minority groups from enjoying the same quality of health as whites.
Health Department officials say the report’s authors deliberately decided to “lead with race” as a strategy for meeting the challenges of health inequities head on. It found that health disparities between whites and minorities in Minnesota in part resulted from structural racism, which refers to racism that’s built into systems and policies, but does not necessarily stem from individual prejudice.
“Structural racism is deeply embedded in American society and is a potent factor leading to inequities in all major indicators of success and wellness,” wrote the report’s authors.
One example cited in the report is that more than 75 percent of whites own their own homes while less than 25 percent of blacks in Minnesota are homeowners. The department report concludes that the design of an environmental hazard program to warn homeowners about problems in their houses might neglect to inform a huge segment of the black population that doesn’t own their own homes. That can lead to adverse health effects for black adults and children.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said all Minnesotans deserve an equal chance to lead healthy lives.
“While Minnesota is a healthy state, not all Minnesotans have the same opportunity to be healthy,” Ehlinger said. “In fact, Minnesota has some of the largest gaps between majority and minority populations. If we, as a state, don’t find ways to address these gaps, our status as a healthy and productive state is at risk. This report aims to address why these gaps exist and what we all can do to fix them.”
The report extends beyond health policy, touching on transportation, geography and employment policies, among others. It cites the razing of St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood for Interstate 94 because it led to lower levels of investment in the neighborhood and its decline. Those factors can affect health if people lose access to parks and other recreational opportunities, or if there’s more crime in their neighborhoods and residents don’t feel safe walking or exercising, the report concludes.
“Policy development for housing and homeownership needs to explore and expose the structural racism that continues to perpetuate disparities in homeownership and neighborhood development based on race,” department officials wrote in the report.
The department acknowledges in the report that some of its own decisions have also contributed to structural inequities, including the department’s habit of working with well-established organizations over groups with ties to other cultures.