Chicago's largest hospitals and clinics officially named racism a public health crisis today. In an open letter—coincidentally shared on Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S.—36 organizations committed to improving health equity across the city.
In addition to supporting programs that help people of color find healthcare jobs, each organization is pledging to provide anti-racism training for staff and create new policies that promote equity, among other commitments.
"We have a lot of work to do," said Dr. David Ansell, senior vice president for community health equity at Rush University Medical Center, one of the participating hospitals. "The commitments need to get specific and it's not going to be easy."
The group, which collectively treats more than 8 million patients, includes large Chicago-based hospital chains like Rush; safety nets like Loretto Hospital that treat large numbers of low-income patients; and a number of government-funded clinics like Esperanza Health Centers.
Many of the organizations initially came together as part of the city's Racial Equity Rapid Response Team, addressing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. Black and Brown people in Chicago and other cities are dying from the virus at much higher rates than whites. Meanwhile, long-standing disparities in access to food, housing, education, safety and wealth have led to a 30-year difference in life expectancy between upscale Streeterville, near downtown Chicago and low-income Englewood, on the city's west side.
Police brutality is another social factor that affects health. In the wake of George Floyd's killing—and the deaths of countless other Black people across the country—hospitals and clinics "must double down on our efforts," the letter says.
Impending commitments will address both patients and workers. For example, a policy might ensure that people on Medicaid, as well as those without insurance, have the same access to health care services as people with well-paying coverage. For workers, it could be a commitment to promote people of color in entry-level positions.
Not every Chicago hospital and clinic is involved, but Ansell said no institution declined to participate. "If anyone was left off, it was inadvertent," he said. "People just showed up at the table."
To get started, the 36 organizations have identified seven steps they'll take to address systemic racism, which "is a real threat to the health of our patients, families and communities," the letter says.
Here are the steps outlined in the group's open letter:
- Re-examine our institutional policies with an equity lens and make any policy changes that promote equity and opportunity.
- Improve access to primary and specialty care.
- Continue to focus on helping our communities overcome chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and asthma.
- Continue to advocate for investments that create innovative solutions to achieve enduring improvements in access, quality and health outcomes for our communities.
- Continue our commitment to hiring locally and promoting leaders of color.
- Renew and expand our organizations' commitment to providing anti-racism and implicit bias training for our physicians, nurses and staff.
- Advocate for increased funding for social needs, social services and programs that promote social justice.
Here are the 36 participating organizations:
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 Health System
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
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Chicago Business.