Since I published Two types of discrimination a few days ago, the Oregon Health Authority has issued an unexpected apology. Not to me. To people who deserve one. It could have been a little better.
Patrick Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), sent a surprising email yesterday. It was stunning not only in its self-reflective toneâ€”heretofore missing from OHA communiquesâ€”but also in its confirmation and acknowledgement of exactly the leftwing discrimination of which I’d accused the OHA. (Not that any of this is in response to my ramblings; I suspect nobody reads any of what I write, including this.)
Here’s what Allen said:
While health equity is a stated value of our agency, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how far short we are from eliminating health inequity in this state. A crisis has a tendency to expose your weaknesses and areas where systems are inadequate, and this pandemic has been no exception. The broad impacts of the coronavirus have fallen especially hard on Black and African American, Asian and Pacific Islander, Native American, and Latino, Latina, and Latinx people, in the U.S., and here in Oregon.
That’s what I’ve been saying!
A centuries-long history of racism and oppression have led to the very health conditions that exacerbate the impacts of COVID-19. And we at OHA were, frankly, too slow to recognize that threat and act on it. For that, Iâ€™m truly sorry.
I don’t particularly want to quibble with someone who’s apologizing, but I’m going to. I think the issue is less “too slow to recognize” and more “too unwilling to publicize.”
The protests of the killing of George Floyd, while not directly related to the coronavirus, have certainly served to expose the fundamental injustice of our flawed systems, including in health care. As a result, people are angry, hurting, and afraid.
It’s not clear if Allen is saying that people are “angry, hurting, and afraid” as result of the protests, “the fundamental injustice of our flawed systems,” or the exposure of those flawed systems. Surely, the flawed systems, right?
I want to acknowledge those very real feelings, and acknowledge the failings, including ours, including mine, that have contributed to them.
“Very real feelings” is such an awful, meaningless phrase. How about we start with the previous sentence and say this: “People are angry, hurting, and afraid. The Oregon Health Authority contributed to that. I contributed to that. I am sorry.”
OHA will do better. I will do better.
Good. Real apologies include promises of change.
We have to.
Trite and demonstrably untrue. The OHA has been doing a crap job for awhile now.
We owe it to our communities.
Yes. Yes, you do.
The health and safety of our communities depends on those of us in positions of privilege and leadership taking action.
The right kind of action, yes. But I would note that this sort of phrasingâ€””those of us in position of privilege and leadership”â€”is what sets the stage for “we know better than you about how you should live your life. “We” are above you.
OHA has been involved in conversations with leaders of Communities of Color in Oregon on how we rectify mistakes that have been made and form a better path for engagement. These conversations have included how OHA can better support the health of Black, African American, African immigrant, African refugee, and Afro-Latinos, Latinas, and Latinx communities.
I’m all in favor of engagement, but the number one way you can serve those communities, as well, you know, all Oregoniansâ€”kind of your mandateâ€”is to transparently and rapidly tell the medical truth as you know it. No more of keeping “on the down low” things like the COVID-19 outbreak among the Latino community or obscuring statistics.
For the COVID-19 response, this includes:
â€¢ Improving collection of race and ethnicity data to better understand how hard the virus is impacting different communities.
â€¢ Improving access to testing, treatment and support services so we know whoâ€™s infected so we can help them recover.
â€¢ Supporting community-centered outreach and education for people to know how to protect themselves and their families and get the help they need.
â€¢ And helping more people get counseling to ease the worry and distress that can stem from the health and economic impacts of this disease.
It’s rather shocking that this wasn’t part of the OHA response from the beginning, but better late than never I guess. We’ll see how it goes.