Doctor Says Racism and Inequality Are Killing People in NYC

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An address on the “State of Health in Brooklyn Community Board 3,” was shared at Monday's meeting. Health and Social Service Committee Chair Edna Johnson introduced presenter Dr. Torian Easterling, Assistant Commissioner, Center for Health Equity, Brooklyn Neighborhood Health Action Center.

“Health clinics have been repeatedly downsized across “… one of the most unequal and segregated cities – New York City.”     Dr. Torian Easterling

While the 24-hour news-cycle is consumed with the body politic, a “State of the Health” address at Community Board 3’s recent public meeting focused on the health of our physical bodies – the center of our own personal worlds. Dr. Torian Easterling, Assistant Commissioner for the NYC Department of Health, made the connection between the overwhelming number of poor health outcomes in certain regions and the structural racism endemic within these communities.

Not sugarcoating anything, Dr. Easterling reminded attendees that premature births and infant mortality continue to disproportionately plague Community Board 3. Simply put – people in New York City are dying far too early. Neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant have some of the poorest health outcomes when compared to others and an average life expectancy of 71.1 years. When compared with the 80-years-plus life expectancy of residents of Washington Heights, that number is unacceptable, Dr. Easterling feels.

Fortunately, Dr. Easterling also outlined specific ways to achieve parity in health. For example, he proposed making injustice visible, whether in the form of racism or socioeconomic discrimination. By eliminating racism, he believes, it will naturally follow that negative health outcomes will also be eliminated, as the two are inextricably linked.

Dr. Easterling was instrumental in creating and bringing to fruition a model for research and reform that seeks to eventually answer, pressing questions pertaining to health in our communities, such as: “What are we doing around infant mortality?” and “Why are mothers dying?” The first community health profile was formulated in 2015 and Dr. Easterling hopes to reproduce it in 2019. Dr. Easterling referred to policy passed in the form of a lactation bill originally proposed by Robert Cornegy as an example of providing solutions.

But the number one unmet health need in Bedford-Stuyvesant is mental health, says Easterling. He informed those gathered about the programs and trainings he’s implemented through partnerships with community organizations. Lastly, Dr. Easterling discussed the innovative Community Health Action Centers, which offer an array of free services to residents of communities such as Bedford-Stuyvesant and East Harlem. The Bed-Stuy Health Action Center at 485 Throop Avenue offers clinical services, a wellness suite, convening suites, kitchen, and a garden, among other amenities. All are invited to come and learn and restore.

Priscilla Mensah is a highly spirited scholar who enjoys topics related to improving health and wellness. She is also a former Health Reporting Fellow at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and can be reached at pmensahbrooklyn@gmail.com.