With school underway, Lafayette Consolidated Government’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force is looking to test 10,000 north Lafayette students and their parents for the coronavirus.
Mayor-President Josh Guillory, who waited days to express condolences to the family of the 31-year-old Black man killed in a spray of gunfire by Lafayette police officers on Aug. 21, will meet with the family Friday.
The gist: Two well-known community advocates have quit a task force convened by the mayor-president to tackle healthcare disparities suffered by Lafayette’s Black community. Their departures, announced Friday, parallel sustained outrage at the mayor-president’s decision to shutter four recreation centers on Lafayette’s predominantly Black Northside.
Tina Shelvin Bingham, a community organizer who leads the McComb-Veazey Community Coterie and runs community development for Habitat for Humanity, explicitly names the rec center closures as a reason for her exit, saying in an email obtained by The Current that the administration’s actions have “eroded the trust of North Lafayette residents.”
The other confirmed resignation is Tonya Bolden-Ball, who serves as the program manager for the Center for Minority Excellence at SLCC. In an email informing the task force of her resignation, Bolden-Ball notes a lack of “alignment” with the task force’s vision, but offers no specific grievance. Reached by phone, she declined to comment further.
Bingham’s email, however, is pointed and blunt, describing a lack of organization on the task force and a lack of input afforded its sprawling membership, which includes council members, clergy, neighborhood advocates and healthcare professionals.
“We have struggled to gain equity and inclusion in the planning and mobilizing of testing sites and resources in [City Council] Districts 1 & 5,” Bingham writes. “This compounds the need for working group leaders and members to gain clarity and a clear understanding of our role on this taskforce and decision making. We cannot build a plane if the parts are in a locked closet.”
Bingham was not available for further comment.
Her complaint is echoed by other task force members who say the group has struggled to define its goals and take flight since launching in April. The task force has met several times over the last few months and has coordinated additional Covid-19 testing in Black neighborhoods. LCG announced recently that it would continue offering no-cost testing at the Northgate Mall through Aug. 12, attributing that service to the work of the health equity task force.
The group was launched by Mayor-President Josh Guillory in April, as data began to show that Black Louisianans were suffering the worst of the pandemic, particularly in New Orleans. A statewide task force was launched earlier that month. To date, Black residents account for 40% of Covid-19 fatalities in Lafayette Parish and 33% of reported cases, but make up around 25% of the overall population, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
To run the local task force, Guillory appointed Carlos Harvin, LCG chief of minority affairs. Harvin has come under fire recently, suffering open shots at his credibility from other Black community leaders. Many view his appointment as barter for supporting Josh Guillory after the Democrat’s own campaign, which was announced late and raised virtually no money, sputtered in the primary. Asked about that during an intense interview with former Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who has spared few words for Harvin, the pastor clarified that he did not endorse Guillory, without directly addressing the question of political compensation. Harvin stands to receive a $10,000 raise in LCG’s recently proposed budget.
“The leaders of the Black community knew that he was never there for us,” NAACP chapter President Marja Broussard says of Harvin. Broussard served on the health equity task force but dropped out after growing frustrated with its lack of direction. A member of the communications committee, she says they had yet to formulate a mission for that committee by the time she left around the beginning of June. Broussard has loudly decried Guillory’s rec center decision and calls his overtures toward the Black community — including his support for moving the statue of Confederate General Alfred Mouton — an “illusion.”
Defending the task force and its leader’s record, LCG Communications Director Jamie Angelle says Harvin has worked “day and night” to expand testing access to Black neighborhoods, launching 10 testing sites with community partners.
“There is so much anger and misunderstanding right now, instead of communication and collaboration,” Angelle says. “Now is the time to open more dialogue, the time to come up with solutions to the new challenges we have been facing.”
Broussard says testing is not enough. Echoing some sentiments in Bingham’s parting email, she argues the task force falls well short of what she and others understood to be its purpose: tackling the underlying social and economic disparities entangled in the Black community’s historically poor health outcomes.
Bingham and Bolden-Ball are community leaders, the real “boots on the ground,” Broussard says, and their departure signals the task force’s shortcomings.
The gist: While not matching the severe racial disparity seen at the state level, Acadiana’s black community is suffering a disproportionately high number of coronavirus fatalities. African Americans account for 39% of coronavirus deaths in the state’s seven-parish health region but only 27% of the population.
Seventy-six people have died in the Acadiana region as of Tuesday — 43 were white, 30 were black, three are categorized “unknown.” That breakdown tracks a trend of disparity seen nationwide. Across the country, public health officials are finding that coronavirus is wreaking havoc on black communities, who tend to have high rates of chronic disease and relatively limited access to healthcare.
Acadiana’s disparity is smaller than the state’s. To date, roughly 56% of Louisiana’s 1,405 deaths are African American, a rate 1.75 times the black community’s share of the state population. Deaths among African Americans in Acadiana are 1.4 times the population share.
We don’t yet know how this breaks down, parish-by-parish. The Louisiana Department of Health has released parish-level demographic data only for parishes that have reported 25 deaths or more. In Region 4, the LDH region that maps onto Acadiana, St. Landry Parish is the only one that meets that threshold, with 26 deaths reported. Of those, 20 were white and four were black, inverting the disparity in a parish with the highest fatality rate, 19%, among its confirmed cases. (By contrast, Lafayette Parish’s case fatality rate is approximately 4%.) St. Landry has the largest black community in the region as a percent of its parish population — 41%.
*Editor’s Note: After this story was first published, LDH confirmed that 25 of the 28 deaths reported in St. Landry Parish as of April 22 were nursing home residents.
Lafayette is in the early stages of launching a taskforce to examine health disparities. Announced earlier this week, the taskforce will be headed up by Carlos Harvin, LCG’s chief of minority affairs.
It’s cliché to say that there is more that unites than divides the candidates. But reflecting on some of those points of unity is important.