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Colorado to declare racism a public health crisis after push by agency staffers to respond to protests, pandemic

Jessica Seaman, The Denver Post
Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, makes a point during a news conference about the state’s efforts to cut the spread of the new coronavirus Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Denver.
David Zalubowski, The Associated Press

Colorado will declare racism a public health crisis following a push by staffers inside the state’s health department to respond to ongoing social-justice protests and the inequities highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Since June, employees at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have pressed Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan to make such a public declaration and became increasingly frustrated when she didn’t move faster to do so.

When asked this week about those internal conversations, Hunsaker Ryan told The Denver Post the state will join the American Public Health Association in declaring racism a public health crisis, and that will become formal policy within the health department.

In doing so, Hunsaker Ryan said she has two goals: to increase diversity in the department’s workforce, which is almost 78% white, and make it easier for local community organizations that provide services to people of color to partner with the agency. She also plans to hire an equity and inclusion officer for the department, potentially by the end of August.

“I like it when my employees push me on this issue to go faster and to use language they think is more descriptive,” Hunsaker Ryan said.

Read more via The Denver Post.


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