As the local health authority, there are tremendous opportunities for the Lane County Commissioners to support healthy communities. Public health goes beyond the provision of healthcare; it is also affordability and accessibility of food and transportation, housing, employment and wages, chronic disease prevention, and the environment as a system of public health.
I am very concerned about the rampant public health crisis of racism in Lane County and beyond. I have been talking about public health equity and what I want to do as your next commissioner to help us achieve it. But what is public health? In an interview with Alison Buttenheim, Associate Professor of Nursing and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, she summed it up this way: “Public health is focused on providing, promoting, and protecting the conditions that guarantee health for all; health for populations, and health for communities.” Racism as a public health crisis underpins so many of the issues I’ve been working on for decades—food access, safe transportation, housing and homelessness, preserving our environment, consumer financial protections, fair wages, paid leave, and more. White supremacy will continue until we dismantle it. Local governments, in particular, are obligated to act to protect our most marginalized communities. This begins with recognizing our role in the systems and structures upholding racism, reorganizing priorities, and reallocating resources.
The County is also the largest provider of healthcare in Lane County serving as the medical home to roughly 30,000 people. I am increasingly concerned about the quality, equity in availability, accessibility, and affordability of that care. Everyone should have access to consistent, high-quality health care.
We have effective public health programs, but we could do so much more with a real commitment of resources to prevention and proven programs. We know what works, we just aren’t always doing it. For example, we have maternal-child health programs that include 8,000 WIC clients in the county seeking support for food and other necessities. Families need available and accessible nutritious foods.
The county plays a huge role as the primary care provider to many of those that have no care or struggle to afford care. While we have one of the lowest uninsured rates anywhere (at around four percent), we should strive to make that zero. I continue to fully support and advocate for universal health care.
Our nation and our community have also suffered greatly from gun violence. We know that domestic violence and gun violence are strongly related and that there are loopholes for offenders to obtain guns. I would advocate that the commission join those fighting at the state and federal level to close loopholes and stop gun violence in our communities.
We also know that we must support families and their rights and ability to care for their loved ones. The passage of Oregon’s Paid Family Medical Leave Act is a great start towards giving working families access to leave to care for themselves and loved ones. I would look to find ways to strengthen and expand that program here in Lane County.