#West Side United Shares Plans for Building Blocks to Better Health Equity

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 General News
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CHICAGO, Feb. 28, 2018 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- West Side United, a group of health care institutions, residents, civic

leaders and health care professionals, today outlined a broad series of health, educational, business and neighborhood development initiatives aimed at reducing the 16-year gap in life expectancy between people living in Chicago's
Loop and in some West Side neighborhoods.

In 2016, several health care institutions asked residents, faith-based community leaders, businesses and others from organizations who work, live, and congregate on the West Side to propose long-term solutions to the stark disparities in health equity –the degree to which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible – between the West Side and the rest of Chicago. 

More than 480,000 people – a population greater than the city of Atlanta – live in the nine vibrant and diverse neighborhoods of the West Side. These communities include Austin, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Lower West Side, Near West Side, West Town, North Lawndale and South Lawndale, and contain some commercial zones that boast business activity similar to the Magnificent Mile. Yet people in these neighborhoods experience rates of chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and infant mortality rates far above the national average. 

"The daily reality of the West Side is echoed in the medical literature: the fundamental causes of many illnesses that shorten the lives of people who live in urban areas are not based in biology or behavior, but instead are determined by the social forces like education, employment, food access, violence and transportation," said Darlene Hightower, associate vice president, Office of Community Engagement and Practice at Rush University Medical Center.

Working beyond hospital walls

"So if being healthy is largely determined by what happens outside the four walls of a hospital, we needed to go to the people working in many sectors across multiple neighborhoods to determine what those barriers to health are," Hightower added. 

Since January 2017, #West Side United's participants have worked to identify the obstacles to health equity, which the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says "is achieved when every person has the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential, and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances."

In a community update shared today at Malcom X College, the group further explained how West Side United can be both an incubator for new programs and an accelerator to scale the impact of existing initiatives.

"Access to quality health care and preventive services are vital components to achieving health equity. To holistically address the social needs that are the root causes of poor health, we need collaboration at a scale commensurate with the challenge," said Mary Kate Daly, executive director, Healthy Communities at Lurie Children's Hospital. "Resources aimed at reducing high levels of chronic disease are too often loosely connected, or too intensely focused on a single issue, rather than looking at the cumulative impact of many social and environmental factors." 

Building Blocks to Better Health

With the help of West Side residents, hospital and health care systems representatives, and community-based organizations, West Side United built a common set of prioritized objectives and formulated a series of recommendations aimed addressing the medical and social determinants, or causes, of poor health. Those initiatives fall into four areas: economic vitality, neighborhood improvements, community health and educational opportunities.

Economic vitality initiatives will help create paths to employment so residents can build individual and family economic well-being. They include:

  • Increased hiring by hospitals from the West Side neighborhoods. Together, the six health systems that are members West Side United hire nearly 6,000 employees each year, and will work to ensure that more of those hired are West Side residents — including people who have barriers to employment such as criminal records, long-term unemployment or gaps in education.
  • Supporting West Side business development through local purchasing and technical assistance. Annually, West Side United's health system members spent $2.8 billion on supplies and services.
  • Start a small-business accelerator grant pool with $100,000. This program will provide technical assistance to support business growth and entrepreneurship.
  • West Side United includes the following health system members:
    • Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago
    • Cook County Health and Hospitals System
    • Presence Health
    • Rush University Medical Center
    • Sinai Health System
    • University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System

The initial neighborhood and physical environment initiatives are aimed at ensuring healthy, affordable food options in every West Side neighborhood. Initially, West Side United proposes:

  • Organizing an impact investing fund to invest a minimum of $2.5 million in critical West Side areas, especially housing and job development efforts. 
  • Expand existing programming and coordinate on new strategies to improve access to healthy food, connect qualified patients to nutrition benefits and host regular local farmer's markets.

Community health and health care initiatives primarily focusing on creating an integrated network of behavioral, mental, and physical health treatment options to ensure that no one in need goes untreated. Vital components are:

  • The expansion of West Side ConnectED – a program to screen and connect patients to social service providers to address their social determinants of health. 
  • Expanding pilot projects to hire community health workers and provide access to them in community spaces, schools, libraries, and other trusted neighborhood institutions, to increase awareness of effective self-management of common chronic conditions.        

Education initiatives center on increasing paid high school summer jobs and college apprenticeships for local students, to connect them to educational and pre-professional experiences. 

University of Illinois at Chicago student Michelle Rodriguez participated in feedback sessions that shaped this effort, and echoed the feelings of many West Side residents regarding the community-driven approach of West Side United, "we all have to speak up, we already know what's going on, but we need to stand up and take action. There are small businesses that can grow, schools that are good, that sometimes people don't take seriously just because of a lack of resources"

"As neighborhood anchors, West Side United health systems members can provide a focal point for aligning other community services to advance neighborhood economic development. Ultimately we believe this collaboration of anchor institutions and community partners can be a catalyst for vibrant, healthy communities," said Cody McSellers-McCray, regional director, Community Health for Presence Health System.

"The West Side United effort can become a national model in building healthier communities," said David Zuckerman of the Healthcare Anchor Network, a network of health care organizations committed to better leveraging their economic assets to improve community health.  "Improving community health means addressing what creates poor health in the first place, and this effort has brought together the people and groups that can do just that."

West Side United Hospital Sponsors Include

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of ChicagoCook County Health and Hospitals SystemPresence HealthSinai Health SystemRush University Medical CenterUniversity of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System

A full list of partners and additional information can be found at: www.westsideunited.org.

Cision View original content:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/west-side-united-shares-plans-for-building-blocks-to-better-health-equity-300605336.html

SOURCE Rush University Medical Center

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