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Public hearing to be held on Erie County Health Equity Act

Erie County Legislature Majority Leader April Baskin leads a Sept. 23, 2021 legislative hearing.
Tom Dinki
Erie County Legislature Majority Leader April Baskin leads a Sept. 23, 2021 legislative hearing.

A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday on Erie County’s Health Equity Act, giving the public a chance to weigh in on a law that would create an Office of Health Equity within the county Health Department.

The office would focus on health inequities among minority and vulnerable populations. New York State Department of Health data shows the county’s Black residents are more likely than white residents to die before the age of 75 and be hospitalized for chronic conditions like asthma and heart disease.

Legislature Majority Leader April Baskin, a Democrat who proposed the Health Equity Act, said the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated those long-standing disparities.

“So if you struggled with these issues pre-COVID, throughout COVID, and post-COVID, you are going to have double, triple the health complications,” she said. “And unfortunately, that led to more people in these particular communities from these backgrounds coming to their demise throughout COVID and that is traumatic, it is sad, but it is facts that we just can't unknow and we can no longer ignore.”

Baskin expects the office to not only track and analyze health disparities, it would act on them too.

“It's more than just the research and the data collection and understanding the trends of poor health in Erie County, but it's also being proactive and getting these professionals out into communities, to educate the community on resources and opportunities to get healthier,” she said, “and translating this data into factual documentation that can be sent to our state delegation and our federal leaders so that they understand that we need more resources in certain areas of Erie County.”

The office would feature nine positions, including a director, a project coordinator, an epidemiologist, an accountant clerk and two public health educators.

Although those positions will be subject to civil service hiring requirements, Baskin said she does hope most of them will be filled by people from minority and vulnerable populations.

“It goes without saying that if you're going to have an office that focuses on marginalized communities, it's good to have people in place who have experienced marginalization themselves in some form or fashion,” she said. “So I'm definitely, within the confines of the law, advocating for as much diversity in placing people into these job positions.”

A little over $1.5 million in salary is already set aside for the Health Equity Office in County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s 2022 budget proposal.

A vote on the law may come as early as December. It’s possible both the law and the budget will be voted on in the same session.

Baskin said the law has the support of her colleagues in the Majority Caucus and she does expect it to pass.

“So that come Jan. 1, we can start the year 2022 with a division in the Health Department focused on health equity,” she said.

Tuesday’s public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. inside the legislature chambers at Old County Hall on Franklin Street.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.
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