NEW HYDE PARK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork)Racism has just been declared a public health crisis.

Now, the largest private employer in New York state is pledging to do something to bridge the divide, CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported Wednesday.

“Leadership has responsibility,” Michael Dowling said.

Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in the state.

He recently made headlines by urging Americans to unite over gun violence and immigration issues.

MORENorthwell Health CEO Tells CBS2 Why His Hospital System Never Got Overwhelmed During Height Of Coronavirus Pandemic

Now he is declaring racism a public health crisis.

“Any kind of prejudice or discrimination that affects people’s health, their well being, and their state of mind, I think we have an opportunity to act on it,” Dowling said.

“It’s so important to not be in your office, to get out of your office and lead,” added Tracey Edwards, regional director of the NAACP.

Edwards credits Dowling for going into underserved communities, to churches and schools, and investing in places like Hempstead and Brentwood, where COVID-19 cases ballooned and where chronic disease has led to disproportionately higher death rates among African-Americans and Latinos.

“It can’t just be the people that are affected to speak out about racial disparities. It has to be everyone,” Edwards said.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Northwell joins 38 other health care systems across the country now fighting inequities over issues of access, distrust of hospitals, and a lack of insurance.

“It’s an emergency and I think COVID certainly brought that to light,” said Elaine Gross, the president of the group Erase Racism NY.

Gross said without help now disparities in education, the economy, housing, and health will grow deeper.

“Racism has a direct impact on your health,” she said.

Northwell is pledging to lead the way by actively engaging and listening to patients and colleagues of color.

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