DeWine Announces Plan to Address Racial Inequity

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A final report issued by the Minority Health Strike Force will provide a roadmap for how the state addresses racial inequities moving forward.

Gov. Mike DeWine introduced the report during his briefing Thursday. The “COVID-19 Ohio Minority Health Strike Force Blueprint” offers 34 recommendations on “dismantling racism, removing public health obstacles, improving the social and economic environment, improving the physical environment and strengthening data collection to better track disparities,” DeWine said.

In Ohio, the overall life expectancy of Black residents is four years shorter than White Ohioans, the governor said. Black Ohioans have higher rates of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, and are 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty.

“The coronavirus has further laid bare the disparities,” DeWine said.

While Black residents make up about 14% of Ohio’s population, they account for 25% of positive cases for COVID-19 – the disease spread by the coronavirus – 32% of related hospitalizations and 19% of deaths, he said.

At least 6% of those testing positive for the virus are Hispanic, though they make up less than 4% of Ohio’s population, he added.

“We have to do better. We can do better,” he said. “We have an obligation to look at these racial disparities and say ‘That’s not right.’ We have to do everything within our power to deal with this.”

Such change requires improving the “social determinants of health,” including an equitable health care system, thriving communities and an improved quality of life, he said.

In response to the report, the governor’s administration released its “Ohio’s Executive Response: A Plan of Action to Advance Equity.” DeWine has asked senior leadership and cabinet members to read the report and lay out a plan of their own of how they can address racial disparities in their sector.

“It’s a beginning. It’s not an end,” DeWine said, acknowledging it’s a work in progress. “But it’s trying to put in writing some of the things that we believe we can do to change things for the better.”

In his plan, DeWine is challenging colleges and universities to encourage more Black students to become teachers and mentors in the public school system. He is also challenging the Department of Job and Family Services to do more with finding homes for Black children in foster care.

While Black children make up 16% of the state’s overall child population, they account for 31% of the children in the foster care system, DeWine said.

“They are not adopted enough. They languish in foster care. And I’m challenging our team to do more about this,” he said. “We are making a commitment to get kids out of foster care and into homes, Black or White, by finding out what the problems are in the system and trying to fix that.”

To address the issue, the Department of Job and Family Services will work with minorities who experienced the system themselves to better understand the experience and work with them to come up with a solution. DeWine hopes to have a report by the end of the year.

Task force leaders Alisha Nelson, director of RecoveryOhio, and Ursel McElroy, director of the Ohio Department of Aging and Youngstown native, said their departments are working to meet the governor’s challenge. The Department of Transportation is considering ways to incentivize transit authorities to provide on-demand transit for health care-related trips, McElroy said.

“On the internet front, which we all know provides us with opportunities and access, the Ohio Department of Transportation is also working with Innovate Ohio to explore options to expand broadband to underserved areas, with particular focus on rural schools and homes by placing fiber optic cables in interstate right-of-ways,” she said.

Her department is working with experts in Ohio to develop a strategic action plan on aging, or SAPA, which includes strategies on community conditions and health behaviors, she said.

“We know that in all the work that we do, a coordinated approach has to be taken across all sectors to improve and achieve health equity,” McElroy said.

To that end, the Governor’s Equity Advisory Board will work to improve state efforts to promote health equity by drawing on the expertise that exists within the state’s communities of color, which will “represent diverse viewpoints from sectors like education, health care, public and private business, community organizations and members of the criminal justice community,” Nelson said.

Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown is also on the strike force. When it was launched in May, Brown said being a part of the strike force was good for the Mahoning Valley because it ensures “our needs are known and, when the resources are coming, our hands are up so they don’t forget Youngstown and Mahoning County.”

From a business standpoint, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted’s economic team has accepted the challenge to better support Black-owned businesses and careers in the state by working with JobsOhio and the Ohio Development Services Agency.

“We know that health outcomes are tied to economic outcomes,” Husted said. “And while Ohio has been a popular place and a great place for innovators and entrepreneurs, we know that in the minority community, potential businessmen and women have struggled to get a foothold.”

Husted says the state needs to do more to improve access to capital for minority-owned businesses while encouraging more minorities to get involved in financial institutions and create more minority-owned and operated banks and financial institutions.

The Development Services Agency has already received 700 applications for the Ohio Minority Micro-enterprise grant, which was created to provide 500 minority and women-owned businesses with up to $10,000 in grants, he said.

Husted also wants to focus on developing more tech-based companies in minority communities while working to develop tech and STEM skills among the future workforce “because those are critical to having economic success in the modern economy,” he said.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.