MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Hennepin County commissioner is calling for terminations at Hennepin Healthcare following the surfacing of photos with employees in blackface. Meanwhile, a union representing paramedics and EMTs is pressing for training on anti-racism.
The photos, obtained by the Star Tribune, reportedly show two Hennepin Healthcare paramedics in blackface makeup. There are no dates on the photos.
Following the release of the pictures, Hennepin County Commissioner Irene Fernando called for those responsible to be fired. Fernando, who represents District 2, is also on the Hennepin Healthcare Board.
“The employees in the photos should be fired, and supervisors who were aware of this misconduct should be disciplined and removed from leadership positions,” Fernando said. “I sincerely apologize to the community for the repeated failures of the organization I represent.”
In recent years, Hennepin Healthcare has created a Health Equity Team to address systematic racism within its organization. Fernando says millions of dollars were approved to address equity and build trust in the community, but the incident represents a “harmful pattern” and damages community trust.
“These incidents are not isolated — they each fit into a long series of racist incidents and practices by Hennepin Healthcare employees and leadership,” Fernando said. “It is clear that racism is deeply rooted within the organization and must be addressed directly through systemic changes in both the policy and leadership of Hennepin Healthcare.”
The Hennepin County Association of Paramedics and EMTs also released a statement via Facebook, calling the photos unacceptable. The union is pressing for “cutting-edge, high-fidelity training on anti-racism and the effects of historical trauma on all staff,” a “full throated” apology for the incident and a plan to increase diversity.
Hennepin Healthcare also addressed the controversy and acknowledged the existence of the blackface photos in a statement released Wednesday.
“Let us be clear that we take this very seriously and our next steps will be determined by any findings. We acknowledge the harm and apologize for the impact to our community and our teams. We regret our role in causing further pain for those we serve and for those who serve,” the statement read.
Hennepin Healthcare officials say the health system is “on a course for success” due to its Health Equity Team.
“But it is a process and together we’ll unravel past and present weaknesses and emerge even stronger as a result,” the statement read.
The health system said it will not comment on the specifics of the photos due to an ongoing review.
Source: CBS Minnesota