By Mary Miller

Cases of the COVID-19 virus have cropped up in Maryland, and at the start of this week, top experts predicted the epidemic very likely will spread throughout the state, including in Baltimore. This much is certain: The virus’s spread underscores Baltimore’s need for strong leadership and crisis management experience in its mayor’s office. With an unfolding crisis that could hit Baltimore’s lower-income communities harder — as they are already suffering from widespread public-health problems — city leadership must be prepared to protect these communities.

Let’s be honest. Right now, low-income communities do not have the option to stay home amidst an epidemic. People working hourly jobs without paid time off rely on their paychecks to make ends meet. If Baltimore decides to close schools, children who get their meals during the school day will go hungry, and their parents may not have access to childcare if they do stay home. At the end of the day, if you are choosing between staying home from work and not earning a paycheck, buying hand sanitizer, or putting food on the table, our most vulnerable residents will choose to put food on their table.

I am the only candidate in the race for Baltimore mayor who offers extensive crisis management experience and proven skills to bring a variety of players to the table to manage the full scope of this issue, and get things done.

Mary Miller (Courtesy Photo)

It’s promising that Maryland insurers have waived costs for virus testing, and I also am encouraged that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has expanded its testing guidelines. But too many low-income communities in Baltimore have limited access to medical treatment and too many are without quality healthcare. It is absolutely imperative that Baltimore’s leadership ensure equity in testing and treatment so lower-income households and the uninsured can get the medical care they may need.

Baltimore has some of the finest public-health institutions in the world. This city’s private and non-profit sectors can step up to assist government to ensure universal access to testing and treatment in order to contain the spread of this virus. Managing COVID-19 here will require someone who knows how to leverage local and private institutions to assist government in responding quickly and effectively.

To accomplish that, Baltimore needs someone experienced in bringing a variety of players to the table to quickly address a major crisis. At the peak of the national financial crisis in 2010, I was appointed by President Obama to help lead our country’s economic recovery. I also helped lead the national government through a 16-day shutdown in 2013. I have the experience and crisis management skills to tackle very complex problems, such as those presented by COVID-19, to ensure the safety of all Baltimore residents.

Long before the COVID-19 virus showed up, Baltimore’s lower-income and communities of color have been in a public-health crisis. From lead paint poisoning to asthma, life expectancy varies by as much as 19% across Baltimore’s neighborhoods. In 2016, the city had the highest overdose mortality rate of all large U.S. metro areas, it leads the state in the incidence of lead poisoning, and childhood asthma rate is two times the national average.

This week, I am releasing a plan, “Ending Baltimore’s Health Inequities.” The full plan can be read at electmarymiller.com/issues. It starts with investing in a solid public health infrastructure so this city can be prepared to respond to emergencies, such as the spread of COVID-19, and the increased frequency of severe weather events caused by the climate crisis. Those significant investments would be guided by a deep understanding of risk management, from my experience in both the private and public sectors.

Other key elements of my detailed public-health plan include:

  • Expanding treatment for substance abuse. 
  • Improving the environmental safety of homes and neighborhoods.
  • Promoting access to healthy, affordable foods in areas of the city that are “food deserts.”
  • Reducing infant mortality, which is almost three times greater among African American mothers in Maryland than white mothers.
  • Prioritizing the health of our children, by ensuring school-based health centers are available in every Baltimore school, not just some.

Baltimore is a city with incredible potential for growth and opportunity, but underinvestment in marginalized communities has led to significant disparities, particularly in its residents’ health and well-being. The city health department has been doing a lot with very little, but it has not been given the resources necessary to effectively ensure the health and well-being of all Baltimoreans.

We cannot effectively reduce crime, improve educational outcomes, or address this city’s housing problems without also addressing its public-health needs. These are not political issues, these are truly matters of life and death.

I understand there are a lot of choices in this race, but I’m the only candidate who is a highly experienced risk manager with the integrity and accountability that is prepared to lead on day one. I know how to get things done and as mayor of Baltimore, I will.

Mary Miller is a Democrat running for mayor of Baltimore, her home of 34 years.

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