Pittsburgh lawmaker wants Pa. to declare racism a public health crisis | Wednesday Morning Coffee

July 22, 2020 6:50 am

Rep. Jake Wheatley’s plan to legalize recreational marijuana would focus tax revenues to community revitalization and education funding (Capital-Star photo).

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Looking to make further change from our unprecedented moment, a Democratic lawmaker from Pittsburgh wants Pennsylvania to officially acknowledge what’s already plain to the Commonwealth’s Black residents: From high blood pressure and diabetes to maternal mortality rates, racism is a public health crisis.

To change that, state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Alleghenyis floating a plan to establish a new task force within the state Heath Department charged with addressing “systemic racism that results in shorter life expectancies, poorer health conditions, lower incomes and other adverse effects that disproportionately affects Black, Brown and Indigenous communities.” The effort would be conducted in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

“Racism is a public health problem that contributes to higher levels of stress, greater exposure to risk factors, reduced access to medical and social services, and ultimately to excess levels of disease, disability and death,” the Pittsburgh lawmaker wrote in a Tuesday memo seeking support for his proposal. “As public policy leaders, we must respond to those in the field of public health telling us these issues are of concern to us all.”

If it’s approved by the House and Senate, and signed into law, the new task force would be charged with “reviewing and providing recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly on policies to reduce disparities between people of color and white residents throughout the Commonwealth,” Wheatley wrote.

(Capital-Star file)

Racial disparities in access to healthcare were laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wheatley and other Black lawmakers have observed.

Take maternal mortality, for instance. According to data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, the maternal death rate for all mothers showed an estimated 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, when 658 women died. Of the 658 women who died of maternal causes in 2018, Black women died at a rate of 2.5 times higher than white women.

“Historically, the dire state of Black maternal health in our state and across the country isn’t new. The causes of these health disparities run deep throughout our healthcare system,” Democratic Reps. Morgan Cephas, Margo Davidson, Summer Lee, and Joanna McClinton, all Black women lawmakers, wrote in an April 14 op-Ed for the Capital-Star.

“Even the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have acknowledged that racial bias is contributing to the disproportionate number of pregnancy-related deaths among women of color. Healthcare providers spend less time with Black patients, ignore our symptoms, dismiss and undertreat our pain.” the lawmakers wrote.

Wheatley acknowledged those disparities in his “Dear Colleague” memo, while also noting that “at the same time, outcry over systemic racism and police brutality against African Americans has roiled the nation, and the phrase, ‘Racism is a public health issue’ has become an internet refrain.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way, Wheatley wrote, as he implored his colleagues to support the bill.

“We have the tools to identify ways in which discrimination is hurting the health and well-being of the people we represent,” Wheatley wrote.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Substitute teachers are a precious commodity in Pennsylvania’s public schools. Elizabeth Hardison explains why they’ll become an even more precious resource as schools get ready to reopen this fall.

Ex-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the nation’s first homeland security czar, had some sharp words for his former agency Tuesday, as criticism mounts over the Trump White House’s use of federal law enforcement officers to quell protests in Portland, Ore., and perhaps other cities nationwide — including Philadelphia. While he’d be willing to work with federal forces, Ridge said that, if he were governor, “it would be a cold day in Hell,” before he let those officers roll into the state uninvited.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, meanwhile, told a state House panel that he’d have no problem arresting those same officers if they broke the law in the act of quelling those protests, Stephen Caruso reports.

The Trump administration has excluded undocumented immigrants from decennial reapportionment counts, Cassie Miller reports.

Pennsylvania lawmakers who are looking to crack down on toxic PFAS chemicals have suffered another setback on Capitol HillCapital-Star Washington Reporter Allison Stevens writes.

A U.S. Senate hearing, co-chaired by U.S. Sen Bob Casey, D-Pa., highlighted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color, Washington Correspondent Dan Vock reports.

A Chester County judge has ordered a stay of the Lincoln University Board of Trustees’ vote to remove university president Brenda Allen until July 31, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page, opinion regular Mark O’Keefe talks to Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria, who’s suing the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to get something you’d already think was public information — the number of restaurant liquor licenses in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

And occasional contributors Michael J. Cozzillio and Krista J. Cozzillio have a suggestion for the White House press corps as the Trump administration resumes daily coronavirus briefings: Boycott them.

Love Park in Philadelphia (Photo via Flickr Commons)

The pandemic could plunge Philadelphia’s finances into the red next year, the Inquirer reports.
Officials at Duquesne University say they’re ‘agreeable’ to the requests for answers from a mother whose son fell to his death from a university dorm in 2018, the Tribune-Review reports.
Gov. Tom Wolf says federal officers would be unwelcome in Pennsylvania, but the Trump White House ‘doesn’t listen to me,’ PennLive reports.
Pandemic spending in Wilkes-Barre has topped $500,000, the Citzens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:


View this post on Instagram


Mood from above #pittsburgh

A post shared by Lukas Kosslow (@kosslowphotography) on

Protesters gathered in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia on Tuesday to raise their voices against the Trump administration’s plans to send federal forces to the cityWHYY-FM reports.
With Pennsylvania becoming more racially diverse, the PA Post explains why that could make such a difference in the election. looks at the state of rural healthcare amid the pandemic.
GOP talks on another round of COVID-19 stimulus have stalled, NYMag’s Intelligencer reports.

What Goes On.
10 a.m, G50 Irvis: 
House Transportation Committee
11 a.m., Live-Streamed: House and Senate Democratic Policy Committee

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out to Pa. Pardons Board Secretary Brandon Flood, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day, sir.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s an old school ska classic from Nicky Thomas, it’s ‘Love of the Common People,’ which English soul singer Paul Young would make a hit (again) in the 1980s.

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
Our club, Aston Villa, escaped the drop on Tuesday, with a clutch goal from Mahmoud Trezeguet, as the Villans bested Arsenal 1-0 at Villa Park on Tuesday.

And now you’re up to date.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.