Expressing Thanks to Illinois Legislators for Putting People Before Politics

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Op-Ed

As faith and community leaders, we were so grateful to see legislators come together a few weeks ago and take serious steps to improve health equity across the state. As faith-based leaders and community organizers, we applaud the unanimous decision of our state legislators to officially start the process for allocating $150 million this year in health transformation funding for neighborhoods where the needs are greatest—especially on our city’s South Side.

Their actions open the door to long-needed change and opportunity in the way healthcare is delivered in our neighborhoods — literally a lifesaver for thousands of residents – and not only for today, but for generations to come.

The healthcare disparities that exist in Black and Brown communities are profound, systemic, and growing. Just look at the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on communities of color as evidenced daily in the numbers of those who test positive, are hospitalized, and are dying from this insidious virus.

Our community has long needed a process to drive better access, prevention, health literacy and, ultimately, a healthier South Side. We are acutely aware of the enormous disparity in health outcomes depending upon where you live in Chicago. Residents in Streeterville have a life expectancy of 90 years, 30 years longer than residents in Englewood — due in large part to chronic health issues.

Unlike those who live north of Roosevelt Road, the 600,000 residents on the South Side suffer a shortage of easy access to primary care, community-based specialty care programs, and supporting ambulatory and urgent care sites which results in inpatient admissions on the South Side being twice as high as other neighborhoods throughout the city. Likewise, emergency room visits for manageable conditions are two to three times higher. And, when compared with other Chicagoans, South Side residents have a 10 times higher infant mortality rate and are four times more likely to die of complications from diabetes.

COVID-19 has made these long-festering issues that much more urgent. That’s why our community has been actively engaged in a process for transformation, working with health providers — including hospitals and clinics throughout the South Side — to create a plan that would address the critical needs in our neighborhoods. Called the South Side Health Transformation Project, together we envision better collaboration among the resources already available in our community while also adding physicians, community healthcare workers, and connectivity to address the needs and issues that will bring better outcomes and better equity.

We need more care programs — including specialists — to support people with diseases or concerns common on the South Side such as behavioral health, chronic disease management, and maternal and infant health. Our residents need people who care every step of the way —community health workers and care coordinators who form connections between different types of care and help people easily find the health resources and patient education they need.  And we know technology must play a big role in connecting all the dots — bringing together healthcare providers and community health workers in support of programs that will make a real difference in the health and mortality of our residents.

 

So, thank you to every member of the Illinois House and Senate for voting unanimously to put something real in place around these systemic issues. Everyone deserves the right to quality and accessible healthcare and we are ready and anxious to start transforming lives on the South Side. Special thanks go to the Illinois Black Caucus and legislative leaders on the South Side who demanded investment and change. It is a major step forward toward equity.

We look forward to seeing the state’s process for these funds and are very hopeful that the South Side will see significant support to transform health. As we begin 2021, for the first time, we can truly see the finish line to better health.

 

Pastor Chris Harris, Bright Star Church, and CEO/Founder of Bright Star Community Outreach

Rev., Dr. Otis Moss, III, Senior Pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ

Rev. Julian DeShazier, Senior Pastor, University Church

Christa Hamilton, CEO, Centers for New Horizons

 

 

 

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