MILWAUKEE — On Friday the YWCA of Southeast Wisconsin hosted a panel discussion on racism as a public health crisis with local leaders and community advocates.
One of the main points of the discussion centered on how a Milwaukee's 2019 declaration of racism as a public health crisis helped inform some of decision-making and outreach during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the panelists and deputy director for the City of Milwaukee Health Department, Marlaina Jackson, said although many disparities and gaps in healthcare existed before, "the pandemic really showed that in particular spaces and in particular populations because of access, because of housing, because of employment, the crisis was going to affect people of color at a much higher rate," she said.
Jackson said the 2019 declaration was monumental at the time. And, she said, when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Wisconsin, it meant city, county and health leaders started looking at race and ethnicity data right away. That data is displayed publicly on the county's COVID-19 dashboard.
"[The data] allowed us to better develop outreach and messaging, which allowed us to identify specifically where we needed to invest resources for screening and testing and now vaccination," said the Director of the Office of African American Affairs, Jeff Roman.
But community advocates say there's still more work to be done when it comes to improving healthcare access for all communities.
"If you're really thinking about access, it has to be beyond just translating materials," said Hmong American Women's Association Executive Director, Tammie Xiong.
She said in the Hmong community, not all of the elders read the language because Hmong as a written language is relatively new.
"We actually need people, boots on the ground, to really help our people navigate really complex systems, healthcare systems. There are even folks who are really confused about where can they get vaccinated, what is needed to get a vaccination," Xiong said.
Friday's panel discussion was part of a YWCA nationwide "Stand Against Racism" campaign.