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Connecticut racial equity panel on public health holds its first meeting

The Connecticut State Capitol Building in Hartford
The Connecticut State Capitol building in Hartford

In Connecticut, a commission set up to tackle wide racial health disparities exposed during the Coronavirus pandemic has held its first meeting.

The 28-member commission is the direct result of a bill that passed with bipartisan support in the last legislative session. It declared racism a public health crisis in Connecticut.

The average life expectancy of African Americans is four years lower than the rest of the U.S. population, said Melissa MCCaw, commissioner of the Office of Policy and Management.

McCaw is the co-chair of the panel. She said the focus will be on enabling the state’s Department of Public Health to be more responsive to people of color.

“DPH will be required to report on recruitment and retention programs for healthcare workers of color," McCaw said. "In addition there will be a report from DPH on the state’s COVID response which will be due to the Legislature by February 2022.”

State Representative Hilda Santiago of Meriden, another member of the commission, wants to make sure cultural differences are also considered.

“A lot of people don’t realize that South Americans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Central Americans, Caribbeans are all Hispanic or Latino but the cultures are totally different,” Santiago said.

The commission’s first task is to recruit an executive director and set up a schedule for public participation in its deliberations. It’s first report is due in January.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.