Chicago Healthcare Organizations Align Efforts to Combat Systemic Racism in Healthcare

Friday, June 19, 2020

Calling systemic racism a public health crisis, a group of three dozen Chicago healthcare organizations, including UI Health, 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 PPE 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. 

The groups, which have a long history of working to overcome disparities in the communities they serve, committed to take seven action steps to advance their work. These include: 

  • 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 like 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 organization's 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.  

Marcus C. Betts, assistant vice chancellor for external engagement at UI Health, called the open letter "a bold first step." 

"The commitments that each institution has made activates a reinvigorated social contract that circumscribes and elevates our shared responsibilities to our city and state," Betts said. "Building on the racial equity platform created by Mayor Lightfoot, we look forward to enthusiastically continuing this work with other stakeholders." 

Institutions that signed the letter are: 

Access Community Health Network 
Advocate Aurora Health 
AHS Family Health Center 
Alivio Medical Center 
AMITA Health 
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 
Friend Health 
Heartland Alliance Health 
Howard Brown Health 
La Rabida Children's Hospital 
Lawndale Christian Health Center 
Loretto Hospital 
Medical Home Network and MHN ACO 
Mercy Hospital and Medical Center 
UI Health Mile Square Health Center 
Near North Health Service Corporation 
New Roseland Community Hospital 
NorthShore University Health System 
Northwestern Medicine 
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 & Clinics (UI Health)