The American Medical Association announced Wednesday that it has joined West Side United, a coalition of health systems focused on improving health outcomes on Chicago's West Side.
As part of its involvement, the AMA will invest $2 million over two years in community development financial institutions that focus on improving access to healthy foods and affordable housing and help finance small local businesses on the West Side.
The interest in joining West Side United came from the AMA's ongoing work to improve health equity, said Dr. James Madara, the association's CEO. Last year, the AMA hired its first chief health equity officer and launched the AMA Center for Health Equity, which focuses on advocating for solutions to health disparities in the healthcare system.
The AMA was also interested in joining West Side United because it's based in Chicago.
"We have been in Chicago for a long time and this is our community although we are a national organization," Madara said.
Six Chicago-based health systems also participate in the coalition: Rush University Medical Center, Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital, Amita Health, Cook County Health, Sinai Health System and University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System. Northern Trust, a financial services company that has donated funds to community development financial institutions, is also a member.
Along with its financial commitment, AMA plans to partner with the health system members to raise awareness in the community about the importance of blood pressure screening to reduce the incidence of heart attacks. The AMA will also hire interns from the West Side community and participate in local volunteer events.
Madara said AMA will monitor the impact of its $2 million investment to determine if it will continue to do so in the years ahead. If successful, Madara said the AMA may even consider replicating the investment in other communities throughout the country.
The involvement of a national organization like the AMA could help West Side United attract more investors, said Ayesha Jaco, executive director of the coalition.
"It's important to have a national entity like the AMA helping to expand our investment pool and our reach across the West Side," she said.
West Side United's main goal is to close the 14-year gap in life expectancy by 50% between those who live on Chicago's West Side and downtown by 2030.
Madara said he's hoping AMA's involvement with West Side United will inspire other healthcare organizations to get involved in health equity efforts in their community.
AMA's experience can serve as a resource for other groups interested in doing something similar, he added.
In addition to the investment from the AMA, West Side United also received $5 million from its members this year. The money will go to community development financial institutions. Jaco said West Side United donates to these institutions because they have ongoing projects that help the community.
"It's a way to broaden some of the work they are already doing on the West Side," she said. "We are hoping to increase their impact."