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Local Nurses Plan Demonstration To Address Issues Of Racism In Health Care

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URBANA – A group of local nurses is organizing an event Sunday aimed at raising awareness about how racism is a public health issue.

The “White Coats For Black Lives” demonstration will take place at 1 pm Sunday at the Crystal Lake Park pavilion in Urbana. 

Champaign-Urbana nurse Cristina Kelly says recent protests against racial injustice and police brutality are raising greater awareness of systemic racism. 

As a health care worker, she wants to take this as an opportunity to educate others within health care about the industry’s own racist history — and encourage discussion and action steps toward addressing it.

“You hear everyone talking about how systems need to change — of course the police system, the legal system,” Kelly says. “Health care is one of those systems.”

Kelly says research has shown that racism exists within health care systems. 

“It’s structural. But it’s also, health care worker to patient, and also health care worker to other health care workers that are of color,” she says. “A lot of people in health care don’t realize that there’s a lot of racism in the health care system.”

Another organizer, Champaign-Urbana nurse Elizabeth Unander, says she hopes the event will prompt those within health care to explore long-term solutions and structural changes that are needed to address — and continually re-address — the problem.

“It’s not just an acute issue that we tackle right now. But racism, and identifying our prejudice, is a lifelong commitment,” Unander says. 

Organizers say health care workers, as well as patients and families, are encouraged to attend the socially distanced outdoor demonstration.

Attendees are expected to wear masks. Participants will kneel in honor of George Floyd and all Black lives lost unjustly.

Kelly says the event is in support of, but not affiliated with, the Black Lives Matter organization and the national “White Coats 4 Black Lives” campaign.

Christine Herman is a reporter at Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter: @CTHerman

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Christine Herman

Christine Herman

Christine Herman is a Ph.D. chemist turned audio journalist who covers health for the Illinois Newsroom. Her reporting for Illinois Public Media/WILL has received awards from the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Public Media Journalists Association and has reached both regional and national audiences through WILL's health reporting partnership with Side Effects Public Media, NPR and Kaiser Health News. Christine started at WILL in 2015.

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