CDC Declares Racism a Public Health Threat 

The CDC stance finally affirms how serious a threat racism is for population health.  

The date of April 8 is important in my world: not only is it my beloved grandmother’s birthday (for the record, she would have been 121 last week), but it’s also the date in 1974 when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run in Atlanta, breaking Babe Ruth’s record.

However, for our purposes, the date will now be etched in healthcare history as when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took long-needed action to declare “racism a series public health threat,” and one that directly affects the well-being of far too many people.

Over this past year, fierce societal narratives have focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, social and racial inequities, and how these inequities impact community health and wellness. Longstanding structural barriers have created challenges in terms of access to, affordability of, and attainment of necessary health and mental healthcare across marginalized populations that span urban, suburban, and rural regions. The American Public Health Association (APHA) has been on the forefront of the efforts to declare racism the public health crisis it is. Some 32 states, plus the District of Columbia and over 1,000 counties, currently have formal declarations in place; an interactive map exists on the APHA website for those interested in digging deeper.

Most of the industry’s professional associations have acknowledged the presence of racism and xenophobia, fiercely condemning them, including the American Academy of Family Physicians,  American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, American Nurses Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and Case Management Society of America, to name a few.

The CDC’s strategic action plan has been applauded, and it encompasses:

  • Studying the impact of the social determinants of health (SDoH) outcomes, expanding collection of evidence on how racism affects health, plus proposing and implementing solutions to address the challenges;
  • Leveraging COVID-19 funding to make new and expanded investments in racial and ethnic minority communities and other disproportionately affected communities around the country. Strategic efforts are also underway to establish a durable infrastructure that will provide both foundation and resources to address disparities specific to COVID-19, as well as other health conditions. The data remains consistent that racial and ethnic minority groups have a far higher incidence of chronic illness morbidity and mortality across disease states;
  • Expanding internal agency efforts to foster greater diversity and create an inclusive and affirming environment for all; and
  • Launching of a new web portal, “Racism and Health,”  that will serve as a catalyst for public and scientific discourse around racism and health.

The CDC’s messaging is direct. No formal statement alone will eliminate racism from society, though consistent and strategic actions are an asset. The CDC stance finally affirms how serious a threat racism is for population health, with ample literature to validate this reality. Access to the full statement appears on the CDC Newsroom page.

This week’s poll asked our Monitor Mondays listeners how much they felt the CDC’s Racism Declaration would impact SDoH funding and reimbursement. The majority of listeners (over 70 percent) chose the “too soon to tell” option, the choice I would have selected as well. The industry will be waiting and watching how the CDC’s strategic plan, actions, and outcomes evolve over time.

Programming Note: Listen to Ellen Fink-Samnick’s live reporting of the social determinants of health (SDoH) every Monday during Monitor Mondays, 10 a.m. Eastern.


Ellen Fink-Samnick, MSW, ACSW, LCSW, CCM, CRP

Ellen Fink-Samnick is an award-winning healthcare industry expert. She is the esteemed author of books, articles, white papers, and knowledge products. A subject matter expert on the Social Determinants of Health, her latest books, The Essential Guide to Interprofessional Ethics for Healthcare Case Management and Social Determinants of Health: Case Management’s Next Frontier (with foreword by Dr. Ronald Hirsch), are published through HCPro. She is a panelist on Monitor Mondays, frequent contributor to Talk Ten Tuesdays, and member of the RACmonitor Editorial Board.

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