OP-ED: Action Must Replace “Statements” on Racial, Healthcare Injustice

OP-ED: We, behavioral healthcare workers, are fortunate to work in an industry where we are guided by broad ethical principles that includes a code of ethics centered around social justice, dignity and worth of the person. We provide care and advocate for all people – no matter what race, financial status, religion, or mental illness.

However, our industry is, as we know, imperfect. Why? Because we operate within a society that has long minimized the worth of certain people, minimized their healthcare, and minimized certain illnesses, such as mental health. Such minimization is no longer tolerable.

As CEO of the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association and as an African-American man, a host of emotions have swept over me as a result of the events surrounding the killing of George Floyd. I thought about writing a “CBHA statement” as other organizations have done that condemns institutional racism, the resulting mental health issues that follow, and the pile-on discrimination of mental illness. A brutal, unbroken circle. While such institutional statements have their place, for some reason, an institutional “statement” seems, for me, inadequate. The sound of fury must be followed by actions if the fury of words is to have any meaning.

CBHA has and always will be about actions.

The question is: how can CBHA promote social justice, dignity and worth of the person, particularly those who have been marginalized? Answer: CBHA can act boldly and broadly.

Here’s what we, CBHA and behavioral health care providers, can do:

  • We can support and propose and fight unflinchingly for legislation that promotes social justice – including both racial and healthcare justice.
  • We can continue to embrace our association’s By-laws which affirm our commitment to reflecting the society’s diversity in our Board of Directors, staff, and programs.
  • We can lend our voice, our time, our ideas to public policy initiatives, committees or taskforces whose aim is to develop solutions and fight for social and healthcare justice.
  • We can fight like hell against healthcare policies that seek to maintain the status quo or seek to further discriminate against historically marginalized communities.

This is list is by no means exhaustive list. More will follow.

In the meantime, on Thursday, June 4, as CBHA’s representative to a national health disparities task force convened by Centene Corporation, I focused laser-like on the disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths and other health disparities suffered by Latinos and Blacks and Native Americans. My intent was simple. I discussed, no –I called it out – the institutional racism and the institutional behavioral healthcare discrimination that our industry faces and sought to identify steps that are urgently needed that Centene can take to move us all toward a more just healthcare system.

We’re just getting started.

Marvin Lindsey, CEO, Community Behavioral Healthcare Association