Rush leaders shared the following message this week with staff members and students:
Over the last week, we have talked with many of you about the anger, fear and sadness that we feel as a community in the wake of the horrific murder of George Floyd. In this time of upheaval, it is important for all of us to take time to come together to grieve, reflect, support and listen to one another. This time also serves as an opportunity to use our strength at Rush, where we can continue to create lasting, constructive change.
Black lives matter. For hundreds of years and still today, structural racism has been and continues to be a threat to the health and well-being of black communities. Black lives matter is not a statement that excludes others’ lives. It is a protest against how our society has failed to create a culture where black people are seen, heard and supported.
As a leadership team, and on behalf of our entire organization, we stand against racism and injustice of any kind. Racism and its manifestations in police brutality and the vast inequities in the criminal justice, educational and health care systems are a public health emergency that cause poor health and premature mortality. In order to achieve our mission to improve health, structural racism must be dismantled.
Fighting structural racism
As an institution whose key role is to provide healing, we are reaffirming our commitment to fight structural racism and its enormous cost. Structural racism not only led to George Floyd’s murder, it is at the root of the shocking and unacceptable life expectancy gap in Chicago and other major U.S. cities.
As we have battled COVID-19, we have seen this inequity firsthand. A disproportionate number of people of color are dying from COVID-19, and Rush is fighting to save them. We have treated some of the highest numbers of critically ill people of color with COVID-19 in our area. We reached out to Chicago’s safety net hospitals to transfer their sickest patients to us, and we saved lives that might otherwise have been lost.
Rush has consistently identified the true cause of many inequities in health care outcomes and has developed programs to address them. Early on, we recognized that alone we could only do so much — our impact would be far greater if we worked collaboratively with partners.
More work to do
As part of our role as an anchor institution and founding member of West Side United, Rush has made it a goal to eliminate the 16-year death gap that exists between the Loop and West Garfield Park, just six miles west. Our Anchor Mission Strategy and health equity initiatives, designed to help our West Side communities achieve overall health, are a central part of our strategic plan and mission.
Rush developed and since 2008 has been home to Equal Hope (formerly known as the Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Taskforce), a not-for-profit that focuses on narrowing the racial gap in breast cancer and cervical cancer deaths. Our Diversity Leadership Council has implemented many initiatives, such as unconscious bias training for 1,500 leaders, to help build a culture of respect and inclusivity for all who walk through our doors.
However, these efforts are not enough. We have more work to do, and we will continue this work at home, across Rush University System for Health. Just as we learned in our community efforts, real and impactful change requires that people work together.
Commitment to social justice
To make our support for anti-racism explicit, we will start by taking the following actions:
- Rush will issue a public statement that declares black lives matter.
- We will display these messages throughout Rush: Black lives matter. Be the change. We are making these statements prominent because they are true for us at Rush and for our community, in our city and across the nation.
- Rush is forming a systemwide Racial Justice Action Committee through the Diversity Leadership Council and the Office of Community Health Equity and Engagement. It will include leaders and staff representatives from across the system. The committee will gather feedback from Rush staff, leaders, faculty and students and make recommendations about how Rush can be even more supportive of our black and brown communities, within and outside of Rush.
We need to do even more, and we will. We must all work together to explore new ways of taking action to deepen our commitment to social justice.
We will continue to have forums to hear from our community at Rush like the one that more than 1,000 people joined last week. At that session, several people opened up with remarkable honesty and vulnerability about their experience of being black in this country, about the difficulty of living a life on guard, fearful of being wrongly accused, and having to prepare their young children for the same experience.
Our hope is that with your ongoing feedback, we will develop ways to improve and strengthen our environment here at Rush and make visible and measurable change. This feedback also will allow us to continue to extend and expand our support to the communities we serve.
We need your voices; we need your support of our commitment to anti-racism. We also need to make sure we maintain an environment where everyone has a chance to talk, listen and learn.
It is hard to talk about racism. Let’s each do our best to make it easier. It is painful to learn how we, ourselves, might have contributed to the problem. Let’s do our best to create these opportunities to improve together.
Our society thrives when everyone has an opportunity to succeed and live a healthy life. The responsibility for that opportunity rests with each one of us. If we work together, we can move forward together. We all can find ways to be change agents. How will you work with us to be the change?
We look forward to collaborating with you to create long and lasting change in our communities — and at Rush.
Dr. Omar Lateef, CEO, Rush University Medical Center
Dr. Sherine Gabriel, President, Rush University, and Chief Academic Officer, Rush University System for Health
Dr. Ranga Krishnan, CEO, Rush University System for Health