Chicago’s West Side has been the home of Rush University and Rush University Medical Center since 1873. We share our community with a diverse population, culturally rich neighborhoods and other institutions that serve residents all over the city and the region.
But for too long, much of the West Side has been overlooked and under-resourced. People who live in the neighborhoods at the center of Rush’s service area are working through the effects of decades of structural racism and economic deprivation, including higher levels of poverty and unemployment; crowded housing; and lower rates of education and health insurance.
The resulting inequities in health, employment, income, education and other areas have a far-reaching impact on community well-being. When Rush began its equity journey in 2016, this impact was starkly illustrated by the fact that life expectancy for a resident of Chicago’s Loop is 85 years, while six miles west the life expectancy for a resident of the West Garfield Park neighborhood is just 69 years.
Together with residents, community leaders, nonprofit organizations and other health care institutions, our goal is to be a catalyst for community health and vitality by dismantling barriers to health and by promoting health equity both within and outside of Rush.
Rush is already recognized as a national leader in this work — in 2018, the American Hospital Association honored Rush as an honoree for its “Equity of Care” award for the third time in recognition of our efforts to reduce health care disparities and advance diversity, equity and inclusion — but there is much more to do.
Health Disparities Lead to Life Expectancy Gaps
Life expectancy varies by neighborhood, as reflected in the 16-year gap between the Loop and West Garfield Park.
While violence is a concern in these neighborhoods that have a low life expectancy, data show that most of the deaths there arise from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke. We also know that rates of serious mental illness are higher in some of these neighborhoods. Here’s the good news: We have the means to intervene and mitigate the structural and social root causes of these diseases. And we’ve established a fully comprehensive strategy to focus on all dimensions of health through the Rush BMO Institute for Health Equity.
The Rush BMO Institute for Health Equity
Established in 2021 with a $10 million donation from BMO Financial Group, the Rush BMO Institute for Health Equity is how we coordinate, scale and sustain all of Rush’s health equity programs in the communities we serve. From preparing health care providers who can understand and address social determinants of health to identifying solutions that make the greatest impact on life expectancy, the Rush BMO Institute is how we bring our health equity strategy to life.
A West Side Anchor Institution
Patients’ health outcomes are tied not only to the health care they receive but also to the conditions in the communities where they live. Rush is using its economic power — its status as a community anchor — to improve those conditions by hiring and developing more West Side talent, purchasing more from West Side vendors, investing portions of Rush’s endowment into West Side projects and engaging our employees to volunteer in West Side neighborhoods.
Our Anchor Mission Strategy formalizes our commitment to anchoring community health and economic vitality for 12 West Side communities.
Partnering for Healthy Communities
The structural barriers to good health are so entrenched that no institution can solve them alone. That’s why Rush is collaborating with West Side residents and other institutions — including health care and education providers, faith communities, businesses and government agencies — as part of West Side United. By working as partners to address inequities in health care, education, economic vitality and the physical environment, we can make a far greater impact than one organization can make on its own.
A Health System Committed to Service
Our work on Chicago’s West Side is just one of the places where the Rush BMO Institute aims to make an impact. Rush University Medical Center’s system partners, including Rush Copley Medical Center and Rush Oak Park Hospital, also have long-term commitments to building healthier communities.
The Office of Community Health Equity and Engagement: Committed to Community
The Office of Community Health Equity and Engagement, or CHEE, oversees our anchor mission and West Side United work as part of the Rush BMO Institute. This office's mission is to enable and support Rush University Medical Center in fulfilling its commitment to improving the quality of life in Rush's diverse neighboring communities. CHEE is also responsible for preparing our triennial Community Health Needs Assessment and Community Health Implementation Plan.
Because we want our work to be transparent, we share our planning process, outline our goals and track our progress in a number of publicly available reports. Our most recent 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment combined with our 2020-2022 Community Heath Implementation Plan — developed in partnership with community members; Rush faculty, students and staff; and our colleagues at the Alliance for Health Equity — covers fiscal year 2019 and what's ahead for 2020-2022. And our annual Community Benefits Summary tracks our progress toward our CHIP goals during each calendar year.
Strengthening Chicago’s Health Equity Expertise
Health equity is impossible without health care professionals who are trained to recognize inequity, call out the social determinants that cause it, and research and pilot innovative solutions to overcome it. Rush works to ensure Chicago’s health care workforce not only reflects the diversity of the communities they serve but also are armed with evidence-based solutions to remove barriers to health. Through education, career pipeline programs and research in our University, Rush is committed to strengthening health care professionals’ knowledge of and commitment to health equity.