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By Nicole Willis, North Sound ACH Chief Operations Officer

UPDATED 6/15: This post was written before Rashard Brooks was murdered by Atlanta Police on Friday, 6/12.

North Sound ACH is committed to being an action-oriented anti-racist organization. As we mourn the murder of George Floyd, our team is experiencing emotions ranging from anger to anguish. Our CEO Liz was the first person who told me about Mr. Floyd’s death. Expecting to see her smiling face on our daily Zoom check-in, I saw an expression of deep heartache. She apologized, “I’m sorry, I am a bit off. I think I just watched a black man die and all I could do was scream.” I can’t recall what we discussed the remainder of the meeting, but I do remember we sat virtually with each other while we processed yet another Black American killed by police brutality and racial injustice.

In the days that followed, we learned George Floyd was diagnosed with COVID-19 weeks before his murder. After surviving a disease which attacks the respiratory system, a disease that is decimating communities of color, what a tragedy that his life ended at the hands of law enforcement.  Some of his last words on May 25 were “I can’t breathe”.

Some have declared racism to be a public health crisis and as we watch the global anti-racism response, some declare that racism is a pandemic. It is not lost on me that the racism and COVID pandemics are intertwined in the most destructive and unjust ways. This is especially true for people of color that have been working the frontlines in healthcare, and the frontline workers who are enabling the economy to open back up again. We’ve read stories of Susie Chin Lee, Regina Lim Låee, Willa Lee, Guadalupe Olivera, Cora Howard, James Simpson and many more who worked in non-hospital settings, many aware of their exposure, yet committed to their livelihood and paid the ultimate price.

How can we use our privilege to respond to the current situation through our organizations? We first must take a hard and honest look at ourselves and our work, and ask:

  • Are we part of a health system where institutional racism and individual discrimination exist?
  • Are we using and publishing data that has and continues to marginalized people of color, indigenous people and LGBTQ+ people?
  • Are we bearing witness to inequalities and injustice in COVID-19 response, reopening and recovery?

Direct actionNorth Sound ACH will begin in the next week:

  1. Fund and advocate for equitable personal protective equipment (PPE) distribution for at-risk workers.
    1. Inquire and ensure adequate PPE is available for all in congregate living and work settings, specifically farmworkers, assisted living facilities, homeless shelters, food processing centers, fisheries, childcare centers, food banks and community outreach workers.
    1. Assess financial impact of required COVID testing among underinsured and uninsured workers.
  • Assess how Care Act funding decisions are being made and how funds are being equitably distributed.
  • Launch the Data Community for Change initiative.
    • This initiative will recruit novice to expert data minds throughout the North Sound region and beyond, to collaborate and learn how to analyze data for equity, improve race/ethnicity data collection, forecast COVID-19 impact on social determinants of health, and other ways to use data for change.

We are grateful to those who have already reached out to us to ask, “What can we do? What should we say?” We will continue to stay on this equity and justice journey with you, where we can listen and learn from one other.