On Tuesday, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners met to discuss racial disparities in incarceration and health, while the local health director shared that COVID-19 cases are declining. The Omaha City Council did not meet but will meet again on Oct. 19.
Douglas County Department of Corrections Director Mike Myers gave a monthly report to the board of commissioners Tuesday. The board discussed issues in mental health and racial disparities in the county’s correctional facilities.
Myers said 20% of the incarcerated population are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, and many of those individuals suffer from mental illness or addiction. About 21% of the total incarcerated population is diagnosed with a mental illness.
“The system, in a broad sense, already spends a lot of resources to keep things the same,” Myers said. “Just to keep people recycling through jails, ERs, homelessness, and eventual law enforcement contacts to start it all over again.”
Commissioner Maureen Boyle said many people probably don’t belong in jail in the first place. She said the board should continue to focus funding on mental health and stability services.
People of color continue to be overrepresented in the incarcerated population, especially recently, Commissioner Jim Cavanaugh said. Black residents make up only 11% of the Douglas County population, but 44% of the county jails’ population.
Commissioner Mary Ann Borgeson said the county corrections department doesn’t have much of a say in who comes through their doors. She said there needs to be conversations in more departments and on every level to address why people of color are more likely to be arrested.
Commissioner Chris Rodgers read a resolution recognizing October as Black Maternal Health Month during Tuesday’s meeting. He said that Black women are three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause.
“To improve Black women’s health, we need a comprehensive approach that addresses health across the lifespan, improves access to quality care, provides for greater economic security to women, and uses policy to create systemic change” Rodgers said.
Commissioner Boyle, who is an OB-GYN physician, said social determinants of health — where we live, our income, our education, whether we’re affected by racism — cause disparities in the health of Black mothers and infants. She said the government needs to do a better job of caring for Black women.
The board also recognized I Be Black Girl, an organization that advocates for Black women. Founder Ashlei Spivey said several organizations across Nebraska are working to improve outcomes for Black mothers and children.
During last week’s COVID-19 update, Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse said it wasn’t quite clear if cases were decreasing or plateauing. This week, she reported that cases are going down.
On Tuesday morning, the county’s seven-day total was at 186.6 cases per 100,000. Huse said that was the third week under 200 since the most recent wave peaked.
“This is fantastic news,” Huse said. “Of course we’re still keeping an eye on what’s happening both nationally and globally.”
Huse said Douglas County, and much of the country, is not quite out of the woods yet. She said locally we’re on the right path, but we’re still in the high transmission category.
Hospitalizations, which usually trail trends in case numbers, are still high. Huse said the occupancy rate Monday evening was 85%. She said there are other viruses contributing to hospitalization rates.
Over 73% of Douglas County residents over the age of 12 have now received at least one vaccine dose. Huse said faith-based organizations in North Omaha are hosting events to encourage vaccination in the community throughout October.
Huse said the FDA will be discussing booster doses for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines this week. She said if those boosters are approved, the health department is prepared to make them available. The FDA will meet to discuss a pediatric Pfizer vaccine on Oct. 26.
“Fingers crossed that by Halloween…we could potentially be vaccinating our youth,” Huse said.