Dr. Kanika Cunningham

Dr. Kanika Cunningham, family medicine physician at Family Care Health Centers, is calling on St. Louis County leaders to recognize the role systemic racism plays in health care disparities, COVID-19 responses.

Doctor says diverse thoughts should help direct County ARPA funds

St. Louis County has received $96.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, the first allotment of the $193 million the County is expected to receive over the next three years. 

Dr. Kanika Cunningham, a family medicine physician at Family Care Health Centers, believes there should be a team assembled to help assess the needs of community, where the support center will be located.

“I definitely want them to be mindful of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Cunningham said. “There should be a committee made up of community members to assist in allocation of these funds, not just health department public officials; the community needs to be involved.”

Cunningham noted that systemic racism has had a major impact on the St. Louis region and that they need to be understood by those who work at the future Center.

“The individuals who work at the Center will also need to recognize and understand the effects systemic racism has had on Blacks when it comes to substance use and create a more equitable approach with substance use to reach those in the community who are often left out,” Cunningham said.

“The people who work there need to look like the people they serve in addition to undergoing [DEI] training before opening up to treat the first patient in addition to what the latest evidence-based research is on treating substance abuse as opposed to the old historical methods,” Cunningham said.

County Executive Dr. Sam Page said the funds “will provide an opportunity to make historic investments in building a future where everyone in St. Louis County has access to health, safety and opportunity.” 

The Page administration used CARES Act funds to address the public health, humanitarian, and economic consequences of COVID-19, with special emphasis on addressing the impact the pandemic has had on vulnerable and underserved populations, particularly the African American community and people with chronic medical problems. 

This includes spending an estimated $36 million to construct a new health center in North County that will increase health services and in-clinic lab capacity, and to build out a state-of-the-art Substance Abuse Support Center. 

Additionally, $22 million will be used to expand workforce development programs currently offered at the MET Center in Wellston. 

A significant amount of the funds will replace lost tax revenue to relieve historical budget pressure for future property tax increases and provide pay raises to Justice Services staff who provide critical services to residents of the jail and make less than their counterparts in other counties.

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