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Youngkin reacts to health commissioner's comments on racism in public health

Commissioner Colin Greene was referenced in a Washington Post article rejecting racism as a public health crisis.

NORFOLK, Va. — The Virginia Health Commissioner is under fire for comments he made in a recent Washington Post article.

Commissioner Colin Greene was referenced in an article rejecting racism as a public health crisis and questioning the link between racism and health disparities.

Last year, Virginia made history as the first Southern state to declare racism as a public health crisis.

RELATED: Virginia is one step closer to declaring racism as a public health crisis. Here's why experts say it's important.

Dr. Greene, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, told the Post he wants to create an investigative unit within the department of health to figure out the reason for high Black maternal and infant mortality rates.

According to the Post, he went on to say racism is a “politically charged word” and said, "if you say racism, you’re blaming white people."

The outlet also reported Greene said invoking racism alienates white people and suggested a genetic reason for disparities in Black maternal mortality. 

"I’m disappointed that Dr. Greene was unable to effectively communicate this mission because this is the mission to close these health gaps. To remove the disparities so that all Virginians... all Virginians have the ability to have a healthy life and a healthy child," Youngkin said in an interview with 13News Now on Monday.

According to the CDC, Black women are two to three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. Youngkin called that statistic “wholly unacceptable.”

"For a long time I have felt and continue to feel angry about the disparity in health outcomes for Black mothers and Black children as opposed to white mothers and white children," he said. "We need to make sure that we provide the same opportunity… the same opportunity to all mothers."

Members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus sent a letter to Governor Youngkin regarding Greene’s comments saying in part, “The VLBC is nothing short of outraged at the actions and insular comments made by State Health Commissioner Colin Greene and his blatant disregard for the presence of structural racism and inequities that impact our mothers, their babies, and our communities at a disproportionate level.”

Credit: VLBC

They also asked to have a meeting with Youngkin, Greene and Secretary of Health and Human Resources John Littel.

Virginia Health Advocacy Organizations also condemned Greene’s remarks in the article. 

The American Cancer Society, Federation of Virginia Food Banks, The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy are just a few of the organizations that signed the letter that said in part, “We call on state officials to strongly support the ongoing efforts of the public service employees leading work in Virginia’s Department of Health to address the impacts of racism on the health of our friends and neighbors.”

In a separate article, the Washington Post released an internal letter, apparently sent by Greene, walking back some of his statements.

13News Now reached out to Commissioner Greene for a comment on his remarks in the initial Washington Post article and about reportedly walking back some of his comments. Because many offices are closed for the Juneteenth federal holiday, we have not heard back yet.

On June 21, the Virginia Department of Health declined to comment further on the matter, according to a spokeswoman. 

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