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HENRICO, Virginia. Members of the Virginia Board of Health on Thursday told Health Commissioner Colin Green that his comments dismissing evidence of structural racism in health outcomes and calling gun violence a political topic of discussion have hurt the health department, its staff and marginalized communities.

After nearly an hour of questioning Green, the board passed a resolution expressing the members’ “embarrassment” about his views and advising him not to publicly question the “basic scientific facts regarding the discrepancies”.

The reprimand came just over a week after Green’s answers to questions about a tense meeting with his staff working with vulnerable mothers and babies were published in The Washington Post. (R), who told reporters this week that he has not yet decided whether to fire Green.

“You’ve done such damage to what we’ve all been striving for in medicine,” said Holly S. Puritz, board member and OB/GYN based in Norfolk. “You can’t discuss maternal mortality, intellectually or scientifically… without discussing racism, because when adjusted for socioeconomic status, it’s even higher.”

Green, who previously served as the local health director for the northern Shenandoah Valley, for years refrained from talking about structural racism, interviews, and recordings obtained through the state’s open-recorded legal show. On Thursday, he attributed his personal views to his lack of political experience.

“The last five months have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that I need a lot of help in communicating with the world of politics and media at the state level,” said Green, who promised to listen more in the future.

Virginia Public Health Chief Regrets Disrespect for Staff

He retracted previous comments questioning the link between structural racism and health inequalities, especially maternal and infant mortality, and reversed course, saying the health ministry could discuss racism. He previously disapproved of it in interviews with The Post and at agency meetings, calling the word “politically charged” and repulsive to white people, contradicting public health experts who say recognizing racism in systems is the first step to dismantling Jim Crow vestiges. .

The latest spat isn’t the first time Green has held these views.

In 2019, he criticized then Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver after Oliver sent a memo to staff reacting to the news. that Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, was embroiled in a blackface scandal. In the note, Greene said in an email to Oliver, constituted “an obvious reckless condemnation of the white race” and “extremely demoralized many of my employees.”

Two years earlier, Green had interrupted a speech by a Virginia Tech professor to dismiss findings from data showing blacks and browns were disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards and pollution.

“It touched him, he didn’t know who he was, he just blurted out, ‘I’m outraged that you even come here,'” Mike Ellerbrock, a professor of environmental economics and ethics, recalled in an interview on Wednesday about his speech. for healthcare workers at the Sheraton Roanoke.

Ellerbrock documented the exchange in an email received by The Post.

“He didn’t want to hear that there was a racial aspect to equal access to health care. His excuse was to accuse me of coming there to shame the whites,” he said. “I was just trying to show the data, the data is clear.”

Green, through Health Ministry spokeswoman Maria Reppas, declined to comment. He did not speak to reporters at Thursday’s meeting and has repeatedly turned down interview requests since last week. In a note to staff on Friday, he said he was sorry his comments had caused employees to feel disrespectful.

12 members out of 15 members health advice those in attendance Thursday, all of whom were nominated by Democrats, voted in favor of the resolution, an unprecedented reprimand to a sitting commissioner. The council does not have the power to dismiss or even control the commissioner, who is appointed by the governor.

Youngkin, who appointed Green, said on Wednesday that racism is a factor in health disparities and that his administration will work to reduce them.

“Racism exists,” Youngkin said. “It exists, it has existed for thousands of years. It will continue to exist. This does not mean that we should give in and allow it.”

Youngkin called Green capable and said his comments did not represent the views of the administration, which also drew criticism from those who see a legacy of racism and racist politics in Virginia’s institutions. Youngkin made a ban on the teaching of critical race theory, an intellectual movement that explores how politics and laws perpetuate systemic racism and “divisive concepts” first executive order his administration.

“I am very disappointed in his inability to deliver this message,” Youngkin told reporters. “And so he has to, he has to prove that he can do the job. I believe he can. And we’re going to support him to prove it.”

In an interview, Youngkin said he set “milestones” to determine if Green was making progress, but did not elaborate on what they were.

Five Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Todd Gilbert (Shenandoah Republican) and three members appointed by Youngkin to work with the health and human resources department during the transition, declined to comment or did not respond to messages asking for Green to comment.

Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earl-Sears, on twitter on saturdaysaid that black maternal and infant mortality is a priority for administration, but did not mention Green.

“We will continue to fight maternal mortality and infant morbidity in Commonwealth countries, which are shockingly 3 times higher for black women. This is terrible for an advanced nation; women die in vain! Addressing causes is a priority for VA,” she tweeted.

Linda Hynes, a member of the Board of Health and a registered nurse working with low-income people, said she sees the effects of racism on a daily basis, for example in access to health care and in the way health workers treat patients.

“If we don’t manage the crisis, the situation will never improve,” she said. “We are in a crisis. Yes, racism has always existed in this country, and this is no reason not to solve this problem.

Green, during the board’s survey, promised to “instruct VDH to look into specific, measurable, meaningful outcomes to address [disparities]”. He said he had previously targeted “racism” to avoid controversy, but said that you can’t talk about inequality without talking about racism.

“Racism at all levels is certainly a factor influencing a wide range of public health outcomes and inequalities. It’s also not the only factor,” Greene said. “America has been fighting racism all my life and will probably continue to fight it, unfortunately, for some time to come.”

Puritz, who is a former chairman of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said Green’s job is to educate people who might be put off by the mention of racism. She said that the ACOG website has 56 quotes about the impact of racism on health disparities.

“Racism is ingrained in our society,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you’re a racist. This doesn’t mean I’m a racist. … And I feel very strongly that not acknowledging this is acting like a leader with great injustice.”

Benita Miller, board member and dentist, asked Green, a Temple University-educated physician and 30-year Army veteran, what he would do to make his words reflect “the essence of all of us, from those who have the most to those who has the least.

“I’m going to keep learning,” he said.

Gregory S. Schneider contributed to this report.

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