ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A new report shows startling disparities between African American populations and their white counterparts here in Rochester, pointing to systemic racism as a key driver.

The report titled ‘The Color of Health: The Devastating Toll of Racism on Black Lives’ shows how structural racism is “stealing the breath from black communities”. Local health leaders at this press conference are sending out a call to action. 

“Our very survival and that of our children is dependent on more equitable systems, practices and policies,” said Sebrone Johnson, Urban League of Rochester, African American Health Coalition.

Leaders from Common Ground Health, the African American Health Coalition, the Urban League of Rochester and Excellus BlueCross Blue Shield are behind the Color of Health report, which found a 67% higher premature mortality rate for African Americans in Rochester and the Finger Lakes.

“We know that the inadequacies we’re seeing for blacks in our community are not simply due to poverty… At every social economically level, black people are dying younger than their similar situated black counterparts,” said Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground Health.

The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the issues, the report finding black residents were 43% more likely to test positive, and even now face lower rates of vaccination than white populations.

“For our neighbors that look like me, they were more likely to get infected from covid, much more likely to end up with severe complications, and more likely to die than their white neighbors,” said Norwood.

Solutions focus on changing the structure of health care systems, include supporting existing anti-racist community initiatives, investing in educational programs for black professionals, and developing health interventions that address the concerns of communities of color. 

“We have to create pipeline programs for the next generation, and this is starting at the pre-elementary level,” said Dr. Linda Clark, Common Ground Health Chief Medical Officer.

“We strive to improve access to care, advance specific health outcomes, and support organizations that have the same mission as we do, that’s what we’re doing here today,” said Melissa Gardner, Excellus BlueCross Blue Shield.

Leaders say the next step is to showcase this report at a regional meeting with various organizations across the community and starting implementing the solutions into daily practices. 

The full report can be found here.