Statement on Rejecting Coronavirus Xenophobia
Posted Friday, February 21, 2020
Message from Hendry Ton, M.D., M.S., Office for Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
A sense of community runs deep in the psyche of UC Davis Health and the whole university. It is what attracted many of us here, and what keeps us going. As a psychiatrist, I have seen the incredible power of community to help our patients, students, and colleagues. That feeling of belonging - the sense that you're an integral part of a community where you're accepted and valued - is healing. It is associated with greater well-being, cognitive function and job satisfaction.
UC Davis’ recognition of this power and of our commitment to a community that supports all people of all diversities is embodied in the Principles of Community, an aspirational statement that reflects both who we are and who we want to be. This year marks the 30-year anniversary of the Principles of Community. In that time, we've made significant progress on this commitment — Forbes recognized us as one of “America’s Best Employers for Diversity” — but there is still more to be done both inside UC Davis and in our larger community.
For us to truly improve the health of communities, we must leverage UC Davis Health’s resources to improve the economic vitality of underserved communities — essentially serving as an “anchor” for communities buffeted by socioeconomic instability.
A core of our mission at UC Davis Health is, of course, to advance health. Yet, health, privilege and bias are often intertwined. In recent weeks, we have seen an example of this in the alarming rise in bigotry and xenophobia against Asian communities. For many Asians, the racism is not new, but it has been emboldened as Asians are scapegoated for the coronavirus epidemic. This is doubly painful as Chinese communities also bear the weight of most of the lives lost. This similarly happened during the HIV/AIDS epidemic when LGBTQ+ people were unfairly blamed.
Yet health professionals and researchers not only provided compassionate care, many stood in solidarity with their patients and worked with community partners to educate and advocate against stigma and discrimination. The lesson here is that to truly address illness and suffering, we must equally address the biological roots and the social ones. Research confirms this: 40% of health is connected to a person’s social and economic circumstances. We see this in our own South Sacramento and Oak Park neighborhoods. They are among Sacramento’s most diversity-rich communities, yet are also among the most economically distressed. Both are within walking and biking distance of three major medical centers, yet residents experience some of the most significant health inequities in the state. The life expectancy of a person living in Oak Park is 10 years less than that of someone living in Davis. Only 20 miles in distance, but a decade of life lost!
For us to truly improve the health of communities, we must continue to be more than the best provider in the region. We must also continue to improve access to care. And we must leverage UC Davis Health’s resources to improve the economic vitality of underserved communities — essentially serving as an “anchor” for communities buffeted by socioeconomic instability. This is the goal of our new Anchor Institution Mission — our AIM for Community Health Initiative. By developing and supporting jobs for local community members, partnering with local businesses, and purchasing and investing locally, we can help generate wealth that stays and grows within those communities.
While our work to improve lives is rarely easy, it is gratifying and meaningful. As members of a nationally renowned health system, we have important opportunities ahead to make the world better — particularly for those in most need. Let’s start today with an act of kindness and continue tomorrow by connecting with people in our community. And please join us next week to re-affirm the Principles of Community and celebrate our commitment to a vibrant, diverse and inclusive community. We have a full week of events in locations that should be easier to reach wherever you work in the health system. Help us make the Principles more than words. Together, we can turn them into strong actions as we spread the power of an inclusive, equitable community throughout UC Davis Health and the communities we serve.
Hendry Ton, M.D., M.S.
Associate Vice Chancellor for Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion