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Getting to the Root of Health Inequities

Q&A With David Ansell, MD, MPH
Senior Vice President for Community Health Equity, Rush University Medical Center
Associate Provost for Community Affairs and Michael E. Kelly, MD, Presidential Professor, Rush University
Honorary Chair, The 12th Annual Rush Associates Board Casino Night

Why has Rush made health equity a top priority?
When you examine the life expectancy map of Chicago, residents who live closest to excellent health care at Rush had among the worst health outcomes in the city. The answer was not just about providing more health care. If we didn’t address the social and structural conditions with the greatest bearing on health outcomes — like poverty, structural racism, poor educational achievement, food insecurity, housing and safety on Chicago’s West Side — we would not achieve our mission of improving health. These health inequities are unfair, urgent and tied to deeply entrenched poverty. It has never been right that a newborn on Laramie is six times more likely to die in their first year of life than one born in Lincoln Park. We felt that Rush had a moral and ethical obligation to respond in a different way than we had in the past.
What is Rush’s vision for health equity?
By 2030 we plan to reduce the life expectancy gap between Chicago’s Gold Coast and the West Side by 50 percent. We’ll do that by measurably improving economic vitality, educational outcomes, the neighborhood environment and health outcomes on the West Side and other communities Rush serves. We have become an anchor institution in Chicago, which means using Rush’s resources and influence to improve health outcomes in our West Side neighborhoods. We are focusing on hiring locally and building new career pathways that lead to wealth; making supply chain purchases locally and using local vendors whenever possible; making social impact investments in housing and other health-related investments; and volunteering locally.
How does Rush address social determinants of health?
Rush approaches this in three ways. First, we aim to improve the well-being of our patients and employees by identifying where, how and why they are not thriving and implementing strategies to improve that. Second, we focus on strengthening economic vitality and well-being through investment, purchasing, food and education strategies. And third, we focus on improving the societal systems that keep individuals and neighborhoods from thriving. One strategy is to strengthen career pipelines to higher-paying positions, both for Rush employees who live in these neighborhoods and for community members at large.
What role do partnerships play?
Philanthropic partners supporting a range of strategies and programs — donors like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, BMO Harris Bank, Citi Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., the Woman’s Board of Rush University Medical Center, a generous anonymous donor and so many others — are essential. We are forging new frontiers in health equity, and our donors recognize that their support can yield high rewards. Also, Rush is working alongside other local medical centers, community leaders, faith-based organizations, and partners in the private sector, as part of a new health equity-framed collaborative called West Side United. By working with committed partners and donors and leveraging these relationships in an entrepreneurial spirit, we can  meaningfully change the lives of 520,000 West Side residents and make these gains sustainable.
Proceeds from the 12th Annual Rush Associates Board Casino Night will support Rush's community programs, improving health equity and removing barriers to quality care in the community. Learn more about the event online.