Nurses Union Names “Systemic Racism” as a Health Threat

Linking racism to issues of public health, National Nurses United has issued a statement “urging all presidential candidates to address the pervasive problems of racial and economic justice that have so stained our nation.”
NNU is the largest union of registered nurses in the country with 185,000 members. In the statement issued Thursday (July 23), the organization said:

“For nurses, the national dialogue this week about structural racism is a reminder that health, which includes personal safety, is a broad thematic that affects all corners of the national debate – from police shootings to the courts to incarceration, and racial disparities in healthcare, housing, job opportunities, and education. “
Citing the example of the recent killing of nine people at an African-American church in South Carolina, the nurses said “systemic racism” contributes to race-based violence.

“While there are clear correlations between structural racism in the criminal justice system and economic and social justice, each area is also a clear and present danger to life and health, as well as an infringement on the human rights of those affected and on American democracy,” the statement said. “As nurses, we are dedicated to preventing all forms of illness, protecting health, and alleviating human suffering.”

The organization said police shooting, suspicious deaths in police custody like that of Sandra Bland, who died in a jail in Waller County, Texas, stop-and-frisk policies “have serious health consequences from loss of life to serious injuries to exacerbating physical and mental health problems.”
The statement also cited these concerns:

  1. Inequity in incarceration. With 5 percent of the world population, the United States has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Though only one-fourth of the U.S. population combined, African-Americans and Latinos comprise 58 percent of the prisoners. One in three African-American males born today is likely, under current trends, to spend time in prison. Arrests for drug offenses and minimum sentencing laws disproportionately affect African-Americans. In addition to the disparate treatment based on race, inadequate health services are common in prison settings and, the NAACP notes, infectious diseases are highly concentrated in prison settings.
  2. Racism remains a significant public health issue. Even with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, racial disparities continue in access to health services and health outcomes. African-Americans, for example, have shorter life expectancies, higher infant mortality rates, and higher rates of chronic illness, such as higher blood pressure, that can lead to strokes and diabetes than whites. Overall racial discrimination significantly contributes to stress and other adverse health factors.
  3. African-Americans and Latinos have higher jobless rates than white Americans, and have been disproportionately affected by cuts in public-sector jobs, long a key area where ethnic minorities, who face greater racism in private employment, have traditionally had greater opportunity. A result is lower incomes and a wealth gap, which are significant factors in higher rates of medical bankruptcies, lack of health insurance, failure to seek timely medical care, malnutrition, and stress-related health disorders.

The organization said it supports criminal-justice reforms, eliminating mass incarceration and disparities; improved prison health services; upgraded and expanded Medicare; increased funding for healthcare, housing, and education; and action to combat climate change and environmental damage that disproportionately affects low-income and minority communities .

“Each one of these areas, as well as racial disparities in other walks of life, such as education, housing and homelessness, and environmental racism, deserve attention and systemic solutions from candidates for elected office and other institutions of our society,” the statement concluded.

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