Statement on Equality and Fairness
Michael Hartman, CEO, June 15 2020
Lamoille County Mental Health Services is an agency formed to help individuals and families cope with stress, disability, and living with a different understanding of the community around us. As such we have a responsibility to address the impact of social beliefs and practices which impact those we serve and the greater community in which we live. We must open up to share the dialogue currently happening on media or in person regarding the other pandemic, racism and hatred and abuse of persons of color. Our website will direct you to the services provided by our agency. In the first link on our site is the Mission, Vision, and Core Values that the board, leadership, and staff of the organization updated in 2017. In the mission statement we made declaration that our organization is here to provide “quality developmental and behavioral health to the Lamoille Valley area, enhancing independence and quality of life.” This statement was composed as a focus of a larger vision. That vision is to support,
“A collaborative community with wellness at its core providing excellence in behavioral health and developmental services, that promotes wellness, independence and quality of life through access to person-centered integrated care in Lamoille Valley.”
This mission and vision of what we hoped to create and support in our community was a reflection of concern we put forth that the agency promote meaningful values central to provision of health care and promote the wellness of community members. In this assertion we also included a set of core values that we believe are central to the ability to complete the mission in service to the vision.
In this moment of pandemic of Covid 19, we also have again come to face the pandemic of racism as a reality of everyday life in our towns, state, and country. Pandemic racism has impacted every aspect of daily life, even for those who may have little or no contact with a person of color. We have been witness in the last few months the impact of racism in health disparities, in our state as well as others. We have been witness to the abuse and assaults of persons of color by a small but impactful group of fellow citizens, and law enforcement officers, and heard defense of these actions as providing for the safety and welfare of societal order.
The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many others, are the failure indicators for societal values supporting safety and wellness of all citizens. They occurred in spite of so much effort by so many to vote for, volunteer for, and commit to a social standard of fairness, equity, and wellness for all. These failures of health, legal, and social structures are in conflict with the mission and vision of the agency and with the core values we have put forth.
In illustration of the conflict we put forward a value of acceptance, that LCMHS “welcome individuals for who they are.” That being that we embraced that any person shall have access to our services, period. When we find that to be a challenge, we accept responsibility for helping to find the service or provider that we lack or begin creation of that as a new resource. It is not an option to decline anyone help.
Another value we put forth is advocacy. We state our commitment to “…encourage and support the goals of individuals and families to gain the resources and voice they need to maintain health.” Maintaining health is not possible if by the color of your skin—or your religion or cultural beliefs--make you vulnerable to health disparities based on such factors. Thus LCMHS is committed to supporting all consumers and other community members and will advocate for them and support their advocacy in order to complete our mission.
We seek to complete our mission by fulfillment of another value, collaboration. We commit to “…work with consumers and community partners to overcome health challenges and disparities.” This collaboration is absolutely necessary as LCMHS is a part of healthcare, but also partners with law enforcement, education, and other community services every day to mutually build toward outcomes that improve the lives of community members.
The collaboration we continuously seek is based on the dedication of agency personnel to the aim of whole health, quality of life and positive change that support all persons. To make those outcomes possible requires that all staff experience support for the effort they make in performing their work and are able to gain from colleagues the commitment and support needed for success.
The current challenges of racism, and the harm and death that can result from it, are due to the systemic failure of concern about health disparities based on race, of the acceptance of lower quality of life based on race, and the lack of positive change in these and other indicators. The American history of the Tuskegee experience of 399 African American men who were denied medical treatment for a deadly sexually transmitted disease that was curable for forty years is deplorable. In 2020 the high rates of Covid 19 infection and death for African-Americans—according to the Journal of the American Medical Association the “death rate for predominantly black counties is 6-fold higher than in predominantly white counties” --is no less deplorable. It only confirms that we lack the positive change and the integrity—acting with honor and principles-- needed to make life safe for persons of color.
Our agency values state that we that we shall have the highest regard for consumer treatment, our colleagues, and our community. Individually we may, but as a social network it is a challenge that we have persons who by the color of their skin may be given different service or may have an opinion questioned due to that factor. One might be offended to be asked to consider this and even argue against it, but data examined by race indicates outcomes like a higher number of police stops, Covid infections, and death during an arrest or in custody speaks to a real pandemic of racial injustice that has
not been corrected.
Finally, LCMHS states staff will “support individuals and families to develop best care planning based on their perceived needs”. For each person or persons in a family we must discern how racism has, on an individual and institutional level, impacted their lives and influenced outcomes for them. This may be about type of employment, housing, healthcare, or other areas of daily life that are impacted and the discussion of how this may be true or not should not be assumed by observation but examined by conversation. We are all currently challenged by Covid 19 to make sense of how something we can’t see, and may not even feel could be deadly to us or others. The reality of racism and oppression is it exists in social standards, practices, and assumptions in ways that may not be visible. Unless we explore our expectations for ourselves and others and accept how we have been influenced by its presence we remain at risk for supporting ideas and practices we may not consciously endorse. For the sake of us all, please take advantage of this time when support for such an examination is high.
This statement is based on the need for further discussion, action, and accomplishments regarding confronting racism in any and all aspects of our lives and eradicating its impact. This includes our work site and the community at large. The statement is made as determined by our vision and values. As an agency concerned with the health outcomes of both those we serve and for our colleagues we will need to create response to current events. Please accept invitation to join in our dialogue on this or begin your own independently or with others. Action by all of us will be the only avenue to success in creating a better environment for ourselves and those who may be here after us.