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Dispute over language surrounding racism highlighted in Utah County Commission meeting

By Kelcie Hartley - | May 26, 2022

Connor Richards, Daily Herald file photo

Utah County commissioners, from left, Amelia Powers Gardner, Bill Lee and Tom Sakievich listen during a public meeting in Provo on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

There was no dispute among Utah County Commissioners on policy during Wednesday’s meeting — just on language.

The officials disagreed with use of the word “equity” in an agreement amendment discussed during the meeting.

The amendment was between Utah County — through the Utah County Health Department and the Department of Public Health at Brigham Young University — to extend an already-approved contract of $9,000 Applied Practice Experience stipends being given to “health equity champions,” or BYU students who intern with healthcare organizations.

“The intent for this amendment was to simply have a continuation from the contract that was approved last year, and be a continuation for year two,” UCHD Executive Director Eric Edwards told the commission. “There was one student who wasn’t able to do an internship for spring/summer which is the end of the grant year. He is able to conduct his internship in the fall, so BYU was simply asking (for) money for the organization he was working with, and also to extend the ability to utilize it in case a Master of Public Health student wasn’t available, they could utilize the field experience for undergraduate students.”

Commissioner Tom Sakievich expressed he was most cornered with the use of “equity,” and how it can be interpreted within the amendment.

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald file photo

Different divisions of the Health Department are listed within the Utah County Health and Justice Building on Sept. 27, 2018, in Provo.

“I understand what they are trying to say, but I’m concerned about why we are doing it,” Sakievich said. “Equity once meant having extras of something. In this case, it’s renamed on something based on historical racism. I’m talking about this because I’m concerned we are perpetuating a misnomer. Health equity should mean you have more health simply because you live a more robust life. … I’m concerned that if we approve this, we are perpetuating a misnomer and something that doesn’t exist.”

The commissioner continued further, by arguing that the United States and other nations suffer from a great many things, racism included.

“I’m challenging that because every nation suffers from some kind of racism,” Sakievich continued. “Racism exists just as gender issues exist, child abuse exists, domestic violence, theft, murder and cheating on your taxes exists. It exists everywhere. I’m concerned we have this focused on health care being an equity issue.”

Commissioner Amelia Powers Gardner said that she agreed with Sakievich, but only to a certain point. She mentioned the abundance of data showing that women of color have a higher mortality rate while giving birth than Caucasian women.

“Even after having adjusted for socioeconomic status, whether or not they have insurance or regardless of their zip code, women of color have a significantly higher death rate postpartum after having a baby than Caucasian women,” Gardner said. “There are some areas that health outcomes, even after adjustments, are showing that there is not health equity regardless of every factor that we try to adjust.”

Connor Richards, Daily Herald file photo

Utah County Commissioner Tom Sakievich speaks during a public meeting in Provo on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

An article by the Association of American Medical Colleges suggests that acknowledgement of health equity is growing throughout the country. According to policy expert Daniel Dawes there have been almost 250 cities, counties and leaders to declare racism a public health crisis.

The article further discusses the disparities between available health care for people of color compared to Caucasians.

Sakievich expanded on his argument by stating that all people are of mixed raced due to genealogical histories.

“I’m mixed raced,” he said. “I have trouble perpetuating the idea that of people of color, for example, all of us have in this room have color from one degree to another. Those who identified as Black are extremely pale and those who identify as white are extremely dark depending on what they do for a living and where they have lived.”

Commissioner Bill Lee recognized the intent behind the amendment and suggested a name change from health equity to health outcome.

Gardner and Sakievich agreed with Lee’s suggestion and approved the amendment provided the changes from equity to outcome.


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