Spokane Co. Health Board defers decision on declaring racism a public health crisis

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane County Board of Health has yet to decide whether racism is a public health crisis.

The board was supposed to vote on that Thursday, but it’ll now have to wait a little longer.

“I’m impacted every single day,” said Joel Bervell.

Bervell is a first year medical student with Washington State University. He knows what it’s like to be a victim of racism.

“Things like when people ask me not to come into the room because I’m Black, and they’d rather have someone else come in to help them out. They told me that point blank,” he said.

Those are words from hospital patients he wanted to help.

It’s situations like that he’s trying to help get rid of, and get more people of color in the medical field. He’s the president of the Student National Medical Association which is dedicated to diversifying the medical field.

“Instances like that show me that race does still have an impact on health care and who can actually get into these areas and spaces,” he said.

The Spokane County Board of Health is saying it does recognize that racial inequality in our community. It drew up a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis in the community. Part of the resolution says the health district would take more steps to make changes in the community to help people of all ethnic backgrounds, so they could have more equal opportunities.

However, that resolution was not passed Thursday.

“We asked staff, on pretty short notice, to come up with something and I thought they did a good job of it,” said Breean Beggs, Spokane City Council President. “But, I also recognize that we have kind of a regular order of business as well.”

Meaning they decided to defer the decision next month’s board meeting so that it could go to the policy committee first, where it would be looked at more closely. Beggs said they just received that resolution this week to look at.

Time, though, is what Spokane City Council Member Betsy Wilkerson has been waiting on her whole life.

“We can postpone and I want to circle back around that we can’t wait. You guys can wait because that’s white privilege, that’s my perception as a person of color,” Wilkerson said in the meeting. “This has been going on for a long time. Probably, we should’ve taken a stand a long time ago because this is health related.”

Barvell told 4 News Now that he was disappointed the decision was tabled, as well.

“I just hope people understand that racism is still real. People still fear for their lives. That it’s something we can still work on, but first it has to take recognition that it exists, and that there’s going to be actual actionable change made on it,” he said.

There is no date set yet on when the policy committee will be meeting.

The Board of Health meets once a month, so July 30th is when they could be making the decision to declare if systemic racism is a public health crisis in Spokane County.

To read more of what’s in the resolution, click here.

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