Calling systemic racism a public health crisis, three dozen Chicago health care organizations are pledging to do more to overcome health disparities in minority communities and ensure greater health equity across the city.
The group, which began their work through Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Racial Equity Rapid Response Team, initially joined forces to focus on COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on minority neighborhoods by making testing more accessible, implementing contact tracing, and increasing distribution of personal protective equipment across the South Side and the West Side. The organizations’ expanded their work beyond the pandemic in the wake of the horrifying and unconscionable deaths of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others.
“Racism results in generational trauma and poverty, while also unquestionably causing higher rates of illness and death in black and brown communities,” the organizers said in an open letter to the Chicago community. “We have seen — in its rawest form — how the trauma of systemic racism adds to the historical injustices that have disproportionately affected communities of color.”
The 36 organizations, which include federally qualified health centers, safety net hospitals and major academic medical centers, collectively care for more than 8 million patients in the Chicago area.
“This statement represents an important first step, but the real work is just beginning,” said Carmen Vergara, chief operating officer of Esperanza Health Centers. “We need to continue challenging ourselves to acknowledge and address the deep, structural ways in which racism affects communities of color – from lack of meaningful economic opportunities to issues of over-policing, housing insecurity and mass incarceration. Most importantly, we need to hold ourselves and each other accountable for the vision of change we’re articulating here.”
Dr. David Ansell, senior vice president for community health equity at Rush University Medical Center and associate provost for community affairs at Rush University, said the collaboration among the 36 healthcare organizations will be the key to achieving transformational change.
“We hope that this statement by Chicago health providers naming racism as a public health crisis will lead to meaningful structural change across a number of our public and private systems, from the health care to the criminal justice system,” Ansell said.
The groups, which have a long history of working to overcome disparities in the communities they serve, committed to take the following seven action steps to advance their work:
- Re-examining institutional policies with an equity lens and making any policy changes that promote equity and opportunity.
- Improving access to primary and specialty care.
- Continuing to focus on helping communities overcome chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma.
- Continuing to advocate for investments that create innovative solutions to achieve enduring improvements in access, quality and health outcomes for our communities.
- Continuing their commitment to hiring locally and promoting leaders of color.
- Renewing and expanding each organizations’ commitment to providing anti-racism and implicit bias training for physicians, nurses and staff.
- Advocating for increased funding for social needs, social services and programs that promote social justice.
“As part of this collaborative work, we are answering the call to eradicate the disparities that put our South Side communities at higher risk for chronic illness and infectious disease like COVID-19,” said Brenda Battle, vice president of UChicago Medicine’s Urban Health Initiative and its chief diversity and inclusion officer. “Working with our partner health care providers, we are committed to addressing systemic racism and dedicating our resources and research to achieving health equity and the highest standards of patient care.”
Access Community Health Network
Advocate Aurora Health
AHS Family Health Center
Alivio Medical Center
Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago
Aunt Martha’s Health & Wellness
Chicago Family Health Center
Cook County Health
Erie Family Health Centers
Esperanza Health Centers
Heartland Alliance Health
Howard Brown Health
La Rabida Children’s Hospital
Lawndale Christian Health Center
Medical Home Network and MHN ACO
Mercy Hospital and Medical Center
UI Health Mile Square FQHC
Near North Health Service Corporation
New Roseland Community Hospital
NorthShore University HealthSystem
Norwegian American Hospital
PCC Community Wellness Center
PrimeCare Health Community Health Centers
Oak Street Health
Rush University System for Health
Saint Anthony Hospital
Sinai Health System
South Shore Hospital
St. Bernard Hospital
TCA Health, Inc.
University of Chicago Medicine
University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System
Civic Consulting Alliance, a nonprofit organization marshalling collaborative, pro bono investments to get big things done for Chicago, is coordinating the work of the Racial Equity Rapid Response and supported the development and organization of the joint statement.