Commits to develop and expand on existing policies to confront and end disparities and discrimination in the health care system
June 22, 2020 (ACP) – Amid protests and calls for justice after the death of George Floyd, the American College of Physicians has released a new policy statement that addresses racism, discrimination and police violence.
Racism extends beyond a societal problem to a public health catastrophe as prejudice contributes to debilitating illness and substandard medical treatment. “As physicians, we are trained to diagnose and treat disease, while realizing our ultimate goal is the prevention of disease. Our statement offers actionable steps toward prevention of the morbidity and premature mortality that racism inflicts on too many of our fellow human beings,” said Dr. Heather E. Gantzer, chair of the ACP Board of Regents and an internist in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park.
ACP's new policy statement, released on June 19, is a follow-up to a May 29 statement in which ACP said it is “gravely concerned whenever any person is subject to discrimination, racism, harassment and violence, whether it's by police and other public authorities, or by private individuals discriminating and committing violence against others because of their race or other characteristics.”
ACP has a long history of addressing disparities and mistreatment in society because of the effects on health. In recent statements, ACP has expressed the views of internists on hate crimes, racial and ethnic disparities, and harassment and discrimination.
“The death of George Floyd was a tipping point in exposing the harm caused by systemic racism,” Gantzer said. “The College had already been researching background for a paper on racism and health; since Mr. Floyd's death, we heard urgent calls to action from multiple ACP members and chapters across the country, pointing out this is a public health issue that calls for action by their professional medical society.”
In the new statement, ACP expands on its previous advocacy and makes the following points:
- ACP commits to being an anti-racist organization that is committed to action and policy to confront and eliminate racism and ACP condemns the injustices and harm that Black and indigenous communities and other people of color experience as a result of pervasive overt and covert systemic institutional racist policies, practices, and discrimination in the United States.
- ACP commits to developing new policies and expanding existing ones towards these goals.
- ACP reaffirms that hate crimes are a public health issue and that all persons must have equitable access to high-quality health care and must not be discriminated against.
- ACP affirms that physical and verbal violence and discrimination, particularly on the basis of race/ethnicity and other perceived characteristics of personal identity, are social determinants of health and, thus, public health issues.
- ACP affirms that discrimination, racism, and violence in the context of law enforcement and law enforcement policies and practices that target Black individuals and other persons of color harm the physical heath, mental health, and well-being of individuals and the public.
- ACP supports greater transparency, accountability, and adoption of best practices in law enforcement to address the sources of institutional racism and harm and ensure equal treatment under the law of all persons, without regard to race and other personal characteristics.
“ACP specifically notes this is a multifaceted and complex issue,” said Gantzer. “Law enforcement officers who are dedicated to equal treatment under the law, ensuring public safety and saving lives are undermined when institutional and systemic practices enable, allow and protect racism, discrimination and violence by other officers undermining public confidence in justice and law enforcement.”
- ACP supports policies to promote safety and wellness at every level of law enforcement organizations including support for officer wellness and safety, and policies that reinforce the importance of community engagement in managing public safety.
- ACP condemns violations of the fundamental constitutional and human right of persons to peaceably protest against racism and violence and calls on public authorities and law enforcement to protect this right and never subject peaceful protesters to enforcement actions that can harm their health.
“ACP is looking internally and reviewing our own organization so that we can be consistent with our mission and our values,” Gantzer said, “which include ‘Inclusion: We embrace diversity and inclusion to foster engagement, belonging, and respect in all that we do’ and ‘Equity and Justice: We create a just and equitable culture without barriers or limits to our members, patients, and the profession.’”
ACP is not alone. Other medical organizations are speaking out about the effects of racism, discrimination and police violence. They include the American Medical Association, National Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Surgeons, Council of Medical Specialty Societies, American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association and others.
Gantzer said patients have begun to talk to her for the first time in 30 years about the toll of discrimination. “I have heard words of honesty and of anguish regarding the effects of long-term racism on their physical and mental health and the health of their children,” she said. “This statement is absolutely ‘in our lane’ as a medical professional society of internists, since we care for the outcomes resulting from racial discrimination and violence, and we seek to address their underlying causes.”
“Racism and Health: A Policy Statement from the American College of Physicians” is available on the ACP website.