In a span of just one week, there have already been two mass shootings that have gained national attention. The killings in Georgia and Colorado are the latest in what seems like a never-ending stream of stories about innocent people getting killed senselessly and violently. Now, in what has become a national routine, political lines are already being drawn. And they are being drawn on the same old line: gun control.
It is hard to not take a breath of exasperation whenever we see the same cycle play out repeatedly in the aftermath of a mass shooting. It starts when the seemingly dormant, yet perpetually antagonistic factions of gun policy resurface in mass media and re-ignite their unending war against each other. As the public’s attention on gun violence once again reaches a critical mass, public officials then proceed one by one to take up gun policy as their new priority. Depending on their persuasion, some leaders may say that there are not enough guns to protect the innocent, while others may say that gun ownership is out of control. The debate intensifies and captivates the nation for weeks or months on end until finally, it reaches a crescendo that ends in nothing but the same, inevitable stalemate that has become the hallmark of almost every mass shooting. The problem never gets solved, national discourse moves on to other news, while innocent people never get the justice they truly deserve.
It does not have to be this way. We, as a society, need to re-evaluate how we approach mass shootings. Gun policy is certainly an issue worth looking into, but it is not THE main issue in these cases. Perhaps we need to start looking at something else. Talking about guns just because guns factored into a news story addresses only the symptom of a major problem, but do not address the true causes of mass shootings.
Public discourse is important. But what is equally important is the content of such discourse. Mass shootings are not and should not be mainly about gun control. Instead, mass shootings must be seen as opportunities to discuss ways on how to address the country’s mental health crisis. Rather than worsening the fault lines of national political dialogue, our leaders can instead find more common ground in improving our nation’s mental health infrastructure. Clearly, these mass shootings are psychotic acts of violence. Guns are the tools that these people use to cause destruction, but it is the mind controlling these guns that we must really be focusing on.
In the medical field, a typical psychiatric assessment involves asking people if they are thinking of harming themselves or others. An affirmative response triggers a cascade of interventions that most likely will lead to a ‘5150’ or an involuntary hold until a person is no longer deemed a danger to self or others. The desire to harm others is so serious that health professionals are trained to carry out a set standard of procedures to protect people from imminent danger. In these situations, there is no debate. There is no time to waste. The person deemed to be a danger is promptly treated and given the attention they deserve. In doing this, the medical community sees thoughts of self-harm or harm to others as an acute crisis, just like any ailment or disease that warrant a visit to the hospital.
If society can give mental health issues the same sense of urgency and level of seriousness that it gets from the medical community, we may be able to find meaningful solutions and prevent these atrocious mass shootings in the future. Our leaders can work together towards allocating more resources towards identifying and assisting at-risk individuals and groups. For instance, hiring more school counselors and other types of mentors who are trained in psychiatric disorders may be able to curtail the possibility of school shootings if early intervention is provided for students that are showing signs of antisocial behavior. Companies and organizations can also be incentivized to provide robust training programs that promote understanding and tolerance of cultural differences. And instead of relying completely on police to deter criminal behavior, communities can invest some resources towards social workers who are trained to diffuse aggressive behavior peacefully and potentially help would-be deviants towards a better path in life.
Mental health issues are not just a medical issue. They are a vital social issue that warrant our utmost attention. Mental health issues permeate the fabric of our collective soul as a nation whether we recognize it or not. The problem is, if we continue to ignore them, they can and will fester like an untreated, open wound.
Patricia Cummings, BSN, RN, had an experience that most other nurses don’t get. She gave the COVID-19 vaccine to Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff. Cummings, a student in Walden University’s Master of Science in Nursing program and clinical nurse manager at United Medical Center says that it was a phenomenal experience, but also acknowledges how the Black community is facing challenges with people receiving the shot.
“My experience of being able to inoculate Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband was truly humbling and exciting. I feel honored that I was given an opportunity to be a part of history, as Vice President Harris is the first woman and the first African American and Asian American person to be appointed to that role. It is certainly one of the greatest highlights of my nursing career thus far,” says Cummings.
But she says that, initially, even she, a nurse, was hesitant about getting vaccinated. “I wanted to conduct my own research on the scientific background of the vaccine as well as speak with colleagues who are experts in the fields of infectious diseases and epidemiology. After reviewing the results of the clinical trials and the vaccine production process, I was convinced about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine, and hence decided to take it,” Cummings explains. “As the mother of two children, we have had to make several adjustments in our socialization, schooling, and other activities. I desire to return to a level of normalcy in my personal life, and I understand that getting vaccinated is presently the only viable solution to avoid contracting and spreading the virus. I am also saddened at the hundreds of thousands of lives lost as a result of the virus and am anxious to seeing the pandemic come to an end.”
Cummings says that one of the biggest challenges facing the Black community is having access to the virus. “Until recently, the vaccine was only accessible at a few hospitals and clinics that are typically far and inaccessible. Additionally, the registration process has been arduous and often requires one to be computer literate, as many sites require registration via the internet,” she says.
However, this isn’t the only reason why BIPOC are hesitant to get vaccinated. History has scared many people. “Hesitancy in the BIPOC population is primarily attributed to their distrust in the U.S. health care system. Historical events such as the Tuskegee Experiment, in which Black men were deceived regarding treatment for syphilis, have had lasting effects on the BIPOC community,” says Cummings. “Additionally, many have expressed skepticism about the short timeframe in which the vaccine was created and the fact that, at first, the only available vaccines required two doses.”
Cummings suggests that nurses can help alleviate patients’ fears because they’ve tended to be seen as people whom the BIPOC can trust as providing information. “Nurses should therefore provide factual information about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine based on their understanding of the clinical trials, as well as the vaccination process thus far,” she says. “Additionally, they should promote vaccination as a part of primary prevention, health, and wellness.”
Building trust in the community she serves is something that Cummings works on regularly. “As a student at Walden pursuing my MSN in the Nurse Executive program, I have learned the importance that the role of a leader as a change agent plays in influencing others to make beneficial choices. I have therefore chosen to put significant effort into sharing information about the vaccine’s efficacy and safety in hopes of building trust in my community,” says Cummings. “I also share my own vaccination experience and am transparent about my initial hesitancy. Additionally, I participate in community events that afford me a voice to safely share information and answer questions in real time.”
Another problem, though, faces certain minority communities—not speaking the same language. “One challenge that I believe exists among Hispanics and other non-English speaking populations is a language barrier. I have not seen adequate advertising and information provided in languages other than English. I believe that it is imperative that vaccine information is presented in a manner that is comprehensible to all people,” says Cummings. “It is important to add that I am passionate about health promotion and wellness. I believe that all people should be able to make informed decisions. My goal is not to strong-arm anyone into accepting the vaccine, but merely to provide them with truthful information and my own experiences in hopes that they make wise choices.”
Nurses in the United States have a unique privilege in being the healthcare providers for one of the most diverse populations in the world. Our country is home to millions of people coming from various racial groups, religious affiliations, and sexual orientation. Promoting the well-being of these individuals require more than just a uniform set of standards. They require a dynamic nursing practice that emphasizes not just sensitivity, but more importantly, responsiveness to cultural differences.
Being educated and sensitive to differences among individuals is a crucial trait for any nurse. However, it is not enough to simply be aware of the nuances between one person and another. Nurses must take a step further and adapt their practice to these differences. Nurses are taught from their earliest days in nursing school to individualize their plan of care. This principle applies not just to how they tailor their approach to the physiological aspects of a patient’s condition, but other factors that affect their patients’ entire being, including their cultural background and preferences. Doing so creates a healthcare system that not only pays respect to the uniqueness of American society, but also helps foster a culture in which diversity becomes an inseparable part of our national identity. In other words, a culturally responsive healthcare system treats diversity as more than just novelty, but as something that our society simply cannot do without.
There are countless ways by which nurses can become advocates for a more culturally responsive healthcare system. Some actions can be done on a larger scale, while some can be done within the confines of one’s practice setting. Here are a few ideas:
1. Ask and listen.
Nurses have been educated to some degree on the differences between various cultural groups. This knowledge is indispensable, but certainly not comprehensive. There is simply no way to ascertain each patient’s cultural preferences without talking to individual patients. Some practice settings may allow more time to get to know patients and even their families, while other settings are fast paced. Nevertheless, assessing for cultural preferences should be codified into every nurse’s assessment in the same way that routine examination of the entire body is considered part of standard practice. Taking the time to ask and to listen to patients’ cultural preferences creates a positive experience for patients and their families at a time when they are vulnerable.
2. Be cognizant of workplace practices that are not culturally responsive.
In a typical work setting, it is not uncommon to have certain entrenched practices or policies that have become so prevalent no one seems to question or even notice them anymore. They are not necessarily wrong, but it may be worth revisiting how these actions may be affecting a unit, agency, or health care setting’s ability to respond to the culturally diverse needs of their population. Making the effort to look at one’s workplace from a fresh perspective may bring to light opportunities for improvement.
3. Get involved with committees or associations.
Larger healthcare institutions, like hospitals, have committees in which nurses can participate and help shape policies in their workplace. Smaller facilities may have a less formal structure but may have protocols in place for nurses to take on advocacy roles. On a broader scale, there are also various nursing organizations, such as the American Nurses Association, that provide avenues for nurses to make their voices heard in local, state, and federal governments. Regardless of how nurses choose to speak up, nurses can make a significant impact simply by choosing to be the voice for cultural responsiveness.
4. Run for office.
Nurses have been consistently named as one of the most trusted professions in the United States. At a time when political polarization and cynicism is so rampant, Americans may be willing to find common ground with leaders that have a track record of integrity and reliability. Nurses fit that bill and can most definitely leverage the public trust to create a more robust healthcare system that celebrates and protects the rights of various cultural groups on a much wider scale. Running for office may be an overwhelming endeavor, but it is certainly something nurses can do.
American society will continue to evolve in ways that will create a more diverse population. This is an inevitable fact, and many industries will need to adapt now. However, the healthcare sector is special in that it does not deal with commodities, but lives. Lives that are vulnerable. Lives that are unique and have specialized sets of needs. Nurses have always served as an integral part of the healthcare workforce, and they can and must continue to do so by taking the lead in create a more culturally responsive healthcare system.
At its core, nursing is an inherently humanitarian career path: The job can’t be done without compassion and a willingness to advocate for patients, by any means necessary. As a nursing professional, you’re also likely to be unwittingly thrust into the political arena, treating both injured protesters and law enforcement officials following a violent clash.
Nursing Professionals on the Front Lines of Social Justice
As such, for modern nursing professionals, the lines between individual health care and politics often collide. Along with treating injured protestors at medical facilities and hospitals, many nursing professionals are volunteering their time on the front lines. In many cases, nurses at protests simply show their support to the cause.
But, if a nonviolent protest escalates into a dangerous situation, having a nursing professional on the scene is vital. You may be able to provide emergency care, of course, but even more importantly, nurses on the front lines of protests have a unique insight into police brutality. This sort of information is an invaluable tool for fueling the conversation about systemic racism in the health care industry as well as everyday life.
So, once you’re aware of the current landscape of protests and the tactics used by police, however, what will your next steps be? There are various ways that you can get involved and take a stand against police violence, on both a professional and social level. Here’s what you need to know about the consequences of police violence and how you can help protesters, no matter if you’re on the front lines or working in the ER.
Racism, Police Brutality, and Public Health
The COVID-19 pandemic had already altered daily life around the world long before May 25, 2020. That night, George Floyd lost his life in the hands of law enforcement officials, and U.S. citizens flooded city streets in response. These widespread protests didn’t dissipate overnight — in fact, they only grew larger, and the violence that escalated in several cities left health care workers in a dire situation.
Already under the threat of the pandemic, nurses from all walks of life suddenly found themselves working to balance public health considerations with the reality of police violence. As a patient advocate in these politically charged times, you should thus be aware of the unique needs of your patients. Victims of police violence and brutality, for example, may fear for their safety.
Discretion is a key factor in situations involving institutional racism and police brutality. Further, the provider-patient confidentiality agreement is especially vital if a protestor in your care wishes to pursue legal action against a law enforcement official or organization.
Patient Privacy in the Modern Health Care Landscape
Privacy is an important consideration in 2021, as so much of our everyday lives can be easily found on the internet. Protesters further put themselves on display, and the plethora of camera phones, as well as professional cameras wielded by the media, make anonymity nearly impossible. If you participate in a protest, whether as a curious observer, an active participant, or in a care-related capacity, it should be expected that your image will be captured on camera.
For example, even masks and costumes couldn’t hide the identities of countless right-wing protestors who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Thanks to the internet and social media, identifying the Capitol rioters was a simple endeavor. While this sort of facial recognition may represent a slippery slope scenario, at least where personal privacy is concerned, the tech proved crucial to holding the rioters responsible.
In the age of telehealth, patients should be afforded more privacy considerations than the protesters, yet various challenges exist when it comes to protecting patient information. To ensure that you’re properly adhering to patient privacy laws, as well as protecting vulnerable patients such as victims of police violence, you must take every possible precaution when collecting, accessing, and storing patient data. You may also want to stay up-to-date on relevant laws and HIPAA regulations, which can change without warning.
There’s No Place for Violence in a Caring Society
As long as police violence remains prevalent, the minority nurses of the future are likely to face unprecedented challenges while on the job. Whether you find yourself in a position of mentor or you’re working directly with patients injured during a protest, your voice is powerful. In the wake of a global pandemic and continued racial disparity, nurses may be inspired to stand up for their patients and actively address police violence, for the sake of both public health and social justice.
April is National Minority Health Month, and this year, the HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH) is focusing on the impacts COVID-19 is having on racial and ethnic minority and American Indian and Alaska Native communities and underscoring the need for these vulnerable communities to get vaccinated as more vaccines become available. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), certain vulnerable populations, such as non-Hispanic African Americans, individuals living in nonmetropolitan areas, and adults with lower levels of education, income or who do not have health insurance, have a higher likelihood of forgoing getting vaccinated.
This year’s theme for National Minority Health Month is #VaccineReady. The goal of this campaign is to empower vulnerable populations to get the facts about COVID-19 vaccines, share accurate vaccine information, participate in clinical trials, get vaccinated when the time comes, and proactively practice COVID-19 safety measures.
Studies show that COVID-19 vaccines are effective at keeping people from getting COVID-19 and the CDC recommends that everyone get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. As more vaccines become available, there are steps communities can take to protect themselves until they can get vaccinated:
Wear a mask to protect yourself and others and stop the spread of COVID-19.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Stay at least six feet (about two arm lengths) from others who do not live with you.
Avoid crowds. The more people you are in contact with, the more likely you are to be exposed to COVID-19.
To learn more about National Minority Health Month and to receive updates on news and activities, sign up for OMH email updates and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
The COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force will provide recommendations for addressing health inequities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and for preventing such inequities in the future
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague the country, it has had a disproportionate impact on some of our most vulnerable communities. Shortly after COVID-19 was first identified in the United States, disparities in testing, cases, hospitalizations, and mortality began to emerge. These inequities were quickly evident by race, ethnicity, geography, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other factors.
President Biden and Vice President Harris have released a National Strategy to combat the pandemic that has equity at its core. To help ensure an equitable response to the pandemic, the President signed an executive order on January 21 creating a task force to address COVID-19 related health and social inequities. This Task Force is chaired by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.
Today, President Biden and Vice President Harris announced the following individuals to serve as non-federal members of the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. Individuals selected by the President are:
Mayra Alvarez of San Diego, CA James Hildreth of Nashville, TN Andrew Imparato of Sacramento, CA Victor Joseph of Tanana, AK Joneigh Khaldun of Lansing, MI Octavio Martinez of New Braunfels, TX Tim Putnam of Batesville, IN Vincent Toranzo of Pembroke Pines, FL Mary Turner of Plymouth, MN Homer Venters of Port Washington, NY Bobby Watts of Goodlettsville, TN Haeyoung Yoon of New York, NY
The twelve Task Force members represent a diversity of backgrounds and expertise, a range of racial and ethnic groups, and a number of important populations, including: children and youth; educators and students; health care providers, immigrants; individuals with disabilities; LGBTQ+ individuals; public health experts; rural communities; state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments; and unions.
As Chair, Dr. Nunez-Smith will also ask six additional Federal agencies to be represented on the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force as federal members. This includes the United States Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, and Department of Labor.
The Task Force is charged with issuing a range of recommendations to help inform the COVID-19 response and recovery. This includes recommendations on equitable allocation of COVID-19 resources and relief funds, effective outreach and communication to underserved and minority populations, and improving cultural proficiency within the Federal Government. Additional recommendations include efforts to improve data collection and use, as well as a long-term plan to address data shortfalls regarding communities of color and other underserved populations. The Task Force’s work will conclude after issuing a final report to the COVID-19 Response Coordinator describing the drivers of observed COVID-19 inequities, the potential for ongoing disparities faced by COVID-19 survivors, and actions to ensure that future pandemic responses do not ignore or exacerbate health inequities.
Mayra Alvarez, MPH
Mayra E. Alvarez, MHA is President of The Children’s Partnership, a California advocacy organization working to advance child health equity. Previously, she served in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama-Biden administration, including at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Office of Minority Health, and the Office of Health Reform. She has also served as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and House of Representatives. A native of California, she graduated from the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of California at Berkeley.
James Hildreth, PhD, MD
James Hildreth is president and chief executive officer of Meharry Medical College, the nation’s largest private, independent historically black academic health sciences center. Dr. Hildreth served previously as dean of the College of Biological Sciences at University of California, Davis and as a professor and associate dean at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Hildreth is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and an internationally acclaimed immunologist whose work has focused on several human viruses including HIV. He currently serves on the advisory council for the NIH director and as a member of the FDA Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. Dr. Hildreth has led Meharry’s efforts to ensure that disadvantaged communities have access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines. He graduated from Harvard University as a Rhodes Scholar, from Oxford University with a PhD in immunology, and obtained an MD from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Andrew Imparato, JD
Andy Imparato is a disability rights lawyer and the Executive Director of Disability Rights California, where he has spearheaded advocacy on crisis standards of care and vaccine prioritization in the last year. Imparato joined DRC after a 26-year career in Washington, DC, where he served as the chief executive of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities and the American Association of People with Disabilities. From 2010-2013, Imparato served as Chairman Tom Harkin’s Disability Policy Director on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Imparato’s perspective is informed by his lived experience with bipolar disorder.
Victor Joseph was elected by the 42 member tribes to the position of Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) Chief/Chairman in March of 2014 and served through October of 2020. As the Chief Chairman he was the principal executive officer for the corporation and presided over all corporate meetings of the member tribes. Prior to being elected TCC’s Chief Chairman Victor was employed as TCC’s Health Director from 2007 to 2014. He worked for TCC a total of 28 years in a variety of leadership position. He has also served as Alaska Representative on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee and on the Indian Health Services Budget Formulation Committee. Joseph is a tribal member of the Native Village of Tanana. He has extensive experience building strong working relationships with tribal leaders, colleagues, staff, funding agencies and corporate beneficiaries.
Joneigh Khaldun, MD, MPH
Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun is the Chief Medical Executive for the State of Michigan and the Chief Deputy Director for Health in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). She is the lead strategist for Michigan’s COVID-19 response. Prior to her role in Michigan she was the Director of the Detroit Health Department, where she established a comprehensive reproductive health network and led Detroit’s response to the Hepatitis A outbreak. Dr. Khaldun has held former roles as the Baltimore City Health Department’s Chief Medical Officer and Fellow in the Obama-Biden Administration’s Office of Health Reform in the US Department of Health and Human Services. She obtained her BS from the University of Michigan, MD from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and MPH in health policy from George Washington University. She practices emergency medicine part-time at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
Octavio Martinez, MD, MBA, MPH
Octavio N. Martinez, Jr. is the Executive Director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at The University of Texas at Austin. Additionally, Martinez is a Senior Associate Vice President within the university’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement; clinical professor in the university’s School of Social Work; and professor at Dell Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry. A native Texan, Martinez has an MPH from Harvard University’s School of Public Health, an MD from Baylor College of Medicine, and an MBA and BBA in Finance from The University of Texas at Austin.
Tim Putnam, DHA, EMS
Tim Putnam is President and CEO of Margaret Mary Health, a community hospital in Batesville, Indiana and has over 30 years of healthcare experience. He received his Doctorate in Health Administration from the Medical University of South Carolina where his dissertation was focused on acute stroke care in rural hospitals. He is a past president of the Indiana Rural Health Association and the National Rural Health Association. In 2015 he was appointed by the Governor to the newly created Indiana Board of Graduate Medical Education and has chaired the Board since its inception. Dr. Putnam is also a certified Emergency Medical Technician.
Vincent C. Toranzo is an active student from Broward County, Florida. Mr. Toranzo has experience with the inner workings of municipality functions. He serves as the State Secretary of the Florida Association of Student Councils advocating for the inclusion of student voices in their community, such as assistance to foster children and the assurance of students’ safety amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Toranzo was awarded the U.S. President’s Award for Educational Excellence and a Citizenship Award for School and Public Service from his local U.S. congresswoman.
Mary Turner, RN
Mary Turner is an ICU nurse at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale and in her sixth year as President of the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) union—the Minnesota affiliate of National Nurses United. She previously worked at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis for 10 years. Turner has been on the National Nurses United’s Joint Nursing Commission since 2011. She serves as the Chair of the Board for Isuroon, which provides empowerment, culturally sensitive health education, and advocacy for Somali women.
Homer Venters, MD
Homer Venters is a physician and epidemiologist working at the intersection of incarceration, health and human rights. Dr. Venters is currently focused on addressing COVID-19 responses in jails, prisons and immigration detention facilities. Dr. Venters is the former Chief Medical Officer of the NYC Correctional Health Services and author of Life and Death in Rikers Island. Dr. Venters has also worked in the nonprofit sector as the Director of Programs of Physicians for Human Rights and President of Community Oriented Correctional Health Service. Dr. Venters is a Clinical Associate Professor of the New York University College of Global Public Health.
Bobby Watts, MPH, MS
G. Robert (“Bobby”) Watts is CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, which supports 300 Health Care for the Homeless FQHCs and 100 Medical Respite programs with training, research, and advocacy to end homelessness. Watts has 25 years’ experience in administration, direct service, and implementation of homeless health and shelter services. Watts served as Executive Director of Care for the Homeless in New York City for twelve years. He is a graduate of Cornell University and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health from which he holds an MPH in health administration and an MS in epidemiology.
Haeyoung Yoon, JD
Haeyoung Yoon is Senior Policy Director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Over the course of her career, Yoon has worked on low-wage and immigrant workers rights issues. Prior to National Domestic Workers Alliance, Yoon was a Distinguished Taconic Fellow at Community Change. Yoon also has extensive litigation experience and taught at the New York University School of Law and Brooklyn Law School. She recently testified before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship regarding Immigrants as Essential Workers during COVID-19. Yoon received her JD from CUNY School of Law, her MA from Harvard University, and her BA from Barnard College.