MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley is laying out a plan to make Milwaukee County the healthiest and most equitable county in the state.
“The truth is, we’re facing two pandemics,” Crowley said. “COVID-19 and racism. We need to change the way we serve the people of Milwaukee County to combat them both.”
Crowley laid out his plan during a press conference Monday afternoon. He repeatedly referenced a parable in comparing Milwaukee’s disparities, where two people are helping pull people out of a river. After a while, they decided to learn why they’re ending up in the river and notice faults upstream. These faults upstream are what need to be changed to help downriver.
He says there are three areas of focus; create intentional inclusion, bridging the gap in health disparities and investing in equity.
“We have to create intentional inclusion,” Crowley said. “People in historic positions of power have typically been straight and white and male. People fall in the river because those who hold the power don’t always have the interests of all people in mind. Decision-makers and influencers within Milwaukee County must represent the full diversity of all of our residents. Secondly, we have to bridge the gap in health disparities. We are at the top of a lot of wrong lists. Most segregated city, worst place for Black children to grow up. People fall in the river because programs and services don’t always address the needs of the whole person or whole families. Rather, they address issues one by one. Milwaukee County will prioritize resolving racial disparities by making it easier to access services that meet the holistic needs of our residents. Third, we have to invest in equity. We need to rethink how we spend our money. People fall in the river when we don’t invest far enough upstream. To make any real progress, we must invest sufficient resources in our residents and communities so that everyone can thrive, not just survive.”
He says doing so won’t be easy, especially with the county anticipating a $52.5 million budget gap. Crowley says if things don’t change, that gap could be $200 million by 2030. But, Crowley says, they can do something that won’t cost any more money; alter the way they make decisions.
"We’re going to continue to make sure we're looking through that racial equity lens,” Crowley said. “So we can make intentional decisions about where we invest.”
That lens highlights a glaring inequity facing communities of color; health. It’s not just related to COVID-19.
"Health equity actually cannot be accomplished for African Americans without a process of restorative health,” Dr. Tito Izard, President and CEO of Milwaukee Health Services Inc. Said. “Restoring health equity is one component of a comprehensive reparations plan. That plan includes criminal justice, health equity, housing integration and then meeting other things such as employment representation and ensure that we have economic inclusion here in the United States.”
Izard said these health disparities are 400 years in the making dating back to when slavery started in the United States.
"We have never, in the history of being in this country, had health parity,” Izard said. “So, whether you talk about cancer rates, whether you're talking about cardiovascular disease, which would include hypertension and heart attacks, whether you're talking about strokes, whether you're talking about infant mortality, every single one of those are a direct link to our history in this country.”
Regardless of any budget shortfalls, Izard said it is imperative to do something about health inequities. Milwaukee County ranks 71st out of 72 counties in terms of health. In order to make the change, Dr. Izard said it will require more than just frequent visits to the doctor's office.
"We can't afford to not address it,” Izard said. “We created a whole population of 32 to 35 million people here in America that are the bottom caste economically and what it's doing is harming when you take that many people in a population and have limited their ability to contribute. economically to the rest of the system, it becomes a disadvantage to the whole system.”
Crowley said they've invested $1.6 million in public health services. The Department of Health and Human Services is also working at implementing a plan called No Wrong Door, which helps expedite the ways people can get help when they seek it out.
"Instead of having to contact several different siloed divisions within the department, there will be no wrong door to enter to receive the services you need,” Crowley said. “You have to take baby steps. It took us more than 400 years to be in this position, it may take the same amount of time. I wish I could see it in my lifetime but you measure progress by reducing the amount of disparities we see.”
As Crowley works on what his department can do to help the problem, he laid out five calls to action for all residents to do to help:
- "There’s an election tomorrow, Tuesday, Aug. 11. There’s no better way to use your power to make change than to elect our leaders. Visit myvote.wi.gov to learn more about who is on the ballot and how to vote safely."
- Contact state and federal legislators
- "Tell them how much you value Milwaukee County services. Tell them we need more direct and flexible funding. We can’t invest in equity or health without more resources. You can find them by also going to myvote.wi.gov."
- Engage in our budget process
- "Once again, this year you can take Balancing Act, the County’s online budget simulation. Take 15 minutes and try your hand at balancing the 2021 County budget, and share your priorities with us. I would also like to invite you to our virtual budget town halls on August 25th and September 2nd. Visit county.milwaukee.gov for details."
- Support local small businesses, especially Black-owned businesses
- "According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 41 percent of Black-owned businesses across the country shut down between February and April. Much like the economic and health insecurities have been magnified by the pandemic, so have the challenges for Black-owned businesses. Lack of financial savings, less access to capital, and funding gaps that existed prior to the pandemic have intensified the demographic disparities."
- Make an intentional plan about what you are going to do to make the needed changes to achieve equity
- "Take a look at the people around you, especially at your leadership tables. How many people of color do you seen? Whose voice is the loudest? How many different opinions do you seek out? Think hard about whether the people who make the decisions in your sphere of influence represent the full diversity of Milwaukee County."