American Medical Association pledges action against racism, police brutality

By | June 8, 2020

During a virtual special meeting of the American Medical Association House of Delegates on Sunday, the AMA Board of Trustees pledged action to confront systemic racism and police brutality in response to the furor that has erupted over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

Floyd’s death has sparked a wave of indignant protests across the country and the world and has prompted the Minneapolis City Council to pledge to dismantle its police department, with nine of the 13 councilors saying the city would pursue a “new model of public safety.”

Now, with the statement the AMA and others in the industry, the call for racial equality has extended to healthcare.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

The organization said it recognizes that racism in its systemic, structural, institutional, and interpersonal forms “is an urgent threat to public health, the advancement of health equity, and a barrier to excellence in the delivery of medical care.”

The AMA said it opposes all forms of racism, denounces police brutality and all forms of racially-motivated violence, and “will actively work to dismantle racist and discriminatory policies and practices across all of healthcare.”

The AMA also released a video of the board reciting this statement as a symbol of its commitment to address racism.

The Board of Trustee’s statement builds on an AMA viewpoint, “Police Brutality Must Stop,” by AMA Board Chair Dr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld and AMA President Dr. Patrice A. Harris. In the article, Harris and Ehrenfeld invoked the COVID-19 public health crisis, saying that while adherence to public health guidelines such as physical distancing and mask-wearing is critical to preventing the virus’ spread, signs are emerging that police forces are practicing disproportionate enforcement of these guidelines in primarily balck and brown communities.

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“What’s often not highlighted are the harmful health impacts that result, such as the connection between excessive police activity and health,” the authors said. “Research demonstrates that racially marginalized communities are disproportionately subject to police force, and there is a correlation between policing and adverse health outcomes.”

They cite an independent analysis finding that black males are three times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than their white male counterparts. Similarly, national data from 2012 shows that while Latinx made up roughly 18% of the population, they accounted for 30% of arrests and 23% of all searches.

“An increased prevalence of police encounters is linked to elevated stress and anxiety levels, along with increased rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma — and fatal complications of those comorbid conditions,” they write.

THE LARGER TREND

The AMA said it recognizes that worsening inequities, unequal access to care and the disproportionately small number of black physicians all have roots in its own past actions.

In 2008, the AMA apologized for more than a century of policies that excluded black physicians. In 2019, it hired its first chief health equity officer to establish the AMA Center for Health Equity to solidify its commitment to embed health equity into the DNA of the organization.

Over the past few months, the AMA has issued strong statements denouncing police brutality, racism and xenophobia in the language of public officials.

“The AMA fully understands that there is tremendous work still to be done to ensure that no one is left out and that everyone has the opportunity, conditions, resources, and power to achieve optimal health,” it said.

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Other healthcare organizations, such as America’s Health Insurance Plans, have also released statements denouncing the killing of George Floyd.

“In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, we want to be clear: AHIP is committed to fighting against discrimination and inequality in all forms,” AHIP said last week, referring to a statement from AHIP President and CEO Matt Eyles. “That commitment extends to health insurance providers’ work to help communities of color overcome the COVID-19 crisis.”

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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