Lurie Children's Hospital strives to level health equity across Chicago

In 2016, the hospital had over 3,000 kids from one ZIP code alone in Chicago's West Side.   File photo

Striving to “move the needle,” Chicago’s pre-eminent children’s hospital recently joined forces with an innovative community consortium aimed at improving health and longevity for underserved neighborhoods.

Mary Kate Daly helps to lead West Side United, a movement designed to equalize the quality of life via addressing chronic health issues from a social, holistic standpoint. 

Daly is the first executive director for Healthy Communities at Lurie Children's Hospital, which was invited to join West Side United in May 2017 by Dr. Larry Goodman, CEO of Rush University and its medical center. The two facilities already shared a rapport and similar cultures. Over the past year, they have invited other hospitals to participate as well.

“The unusual thing for Lurie is that we are the only ones without a hospital physically located in those neighborhoods,” Daly said, noting that Lurie is several miles away from West Side. “But we were excited to join because so many children that we serve live in those neighborhoods.”

Lurie is also the only independent, free-standing pediatric hospital in Illinois, serving patients from every state plus 47 nations, according to Daly.

West Side United was started jointly in January 2017 by Rush University Medical Center, Cook County Health and Hospitals System, and UI (University of Illinois) Chicago Hospital & Health Sciences System.

“Those three hospitals are all located within walking distance of each other,” Daly said. “They got together and started a listening tour in the community to explore community expectations and avenues for partnership.”

While all hospitals perform health needs assessments in eight priority areas, she explained that each hospital uses its own assessment and implementation plan. For Lurie, the top focus is the social health determinant, according to Daly.

“Because these are really hard issues to address, they are rooted in years of disinvestment and other issues," she said. "If we’re really going to move the needle, it has to be all these hospitals working together.”

Lurie Children's identified eight child health priorities in its latest Community Health Needs Assessment, Daly said. 

“They are social determinants of health, access to care, asthma, mental health, violence, child maltreatment, complex chronic conditions and obesity," she said. 

West Side United is working on many of these, with a particular focus on social determinants of health because social factors have a major impact on other health conditions. Daly said that Lurie prizes overall longevity above all as the top priority.

“When we look at our data, particularly our emergency room visits, in 2016 we had over 3,000 kids from one ZIP code alone in the West Side,” she said, noting the long-term vision is to accelerate the difference in shortened life expectancy.  “It’s just unacceptable. Our goal is to cut it in half by 2030.”

Two main pieces stand out for the West Side anchor committee, of which Daly happens to be co-anchor, which transcend health and connect with the social economy at its roots: internal and external. First, hospitals are looking internally and asking “what can we do to change our business practices to ultimately improve community health?”

Daly cited three internal components: hiring, with more intentional recruiting from the neighborhoods, and career development; procurement or purchasing, such as asking, “Can we buy things such as products, supplies and services from these neighborhoods?; and two investing models, including a commitment to certain kinds such as a small business grant accelerator pool, and funneling capital from previous endowments and investing in loans.

To that end, Daly said that the coalition has committed up to $100,000 to a grant accelerator fund and pledged $2.5 million to impact investing via direct investment in communities.

Externally, she said, a planning committee gathers representatives from each of the nine West Side neighborhoods plus hospital representatives to identify shared projects, with two priorities: first, to increase the number of community health workers who have "extreme value" with hospitals committed to partnerships; and second, to co-locate behavioral health services and integrate neighborhood life with services, such as through community health centers “on the ground.”

“Clinical and public health experts have been out in the community for decades now,” Daly said. “What’s new is the collaboration with major hospitals... . What makes this collaboration unique is the shared focus on anchor strategies and community engagement.”

Daly has served at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago for 17 years. The pediatric specialty facility counts more than 1,200 physicians and 4,000 staffers, covering scores of pediatric areas and associated with practitioners at numerous additional sites. It is at 225 E. Chicago Ave. and is affiliated with the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

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