By Kathleen Noonan, CEO, Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers
We write in sadness and with grave concern about what is happening in our country. Sadness because the protests we’ve seen are inevitable and necessary in the wake of centuries of structural racism, manifest most recently in incidents ranging from the threat against Christian Cooper as he was bird watching in Central Park to the police’s killing of George Floyd. Concern because white America has failed for many years to acknowledge or redress this state of affairs — and has in many ways contributed to and benefited from it.
We are also inspired by the possibility of change. Here in Camden, where fifty years ago riots engulfed the city in response to police brutality, our police department showed true leadership this past week by marching alongside city residents in peaceful protest instead of standing against them.
Consistent with our mission, the Camden Coalition and our National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs are working with our staff and partners to develop ways to respond, and we want to share some of those with you.
Complex care programs and providers have led the way in responding rapidly to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, using our community connections and deep understanding of the interconnectedness of health and social needs to meet people where they are and prioritize services for the most vulnerable. We can use those same cross-sector connections and trauma-informed, person-centered frameworks to respond to racism and institutional violence in our communities.
Here are some things that you and your organizations can do — I’m sure that through conversations with your communities, you can think of even more.
- Leverage partnerships with police, municipal and state leaders, and community organizations to push for police departments to center de-escalation and trauma awareness, and for policies that hold police accountable for excessive force and decrease militarization of police departments. The Camden County Police Department’s peaceful response to community protest comes after years of innovative de-escalation trainings and policies that have made it a national model for progressive policing.
- Create space for both staff and patients/clients, particularly those of color, to grieve and express anger. Listen for ideas and opportunities, both to strengthen your organizational practices around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to take action in your community.
- Connect with organizations in your community that work on issues of racial equity. How might you collaborate with these groups to better serve your community? Maybe it’s anti-racism training for staff members, working together on policy goals, or amplifying opportunities for action to your audiences.
In addition, you can learn about what police violence looks like across the country, how policing is a public health issue, and how healthcare and social service providers can reduce reliance on police when responding to medical, behavioral health, and overdose emergencies, particularly in marginalized and over-policed communities.
Working in complex care means we have a duty to both prevent and respond to trauma in our communities, and to ensure the vulnerable individuals we serve can access the services they need safely and without fear. I hope you will join us in not only denouncing racism and institutional violence where you see it, but in taking action to ensure equity as well.