Plan 2020: Campus kicks off health disparities initiatives

By Erinn Connor

After a morning of learning about the reality of health inequalities in the Chicagoland area, faculty, staff, and students from across all of Loyola University Chicago’s campuses came together to brainstorm ways to reduce these disparities.

The first ever Health-EQ Conference, held at the new Center for Translational Research and Education on Loyola’s Health Sciences Campus in Maywood, launched a discussion to set the priorities for health disparities initiatives at Loyola. These initiatives are part of the University’s "Plan 2020: Building a More Just, Humane, and Sustainable World", a five-year strategic plan that aims to use its influence to help better society and its surroundings.

“We are looking to go beyond the walls of this building to tackle persistent societal challenges and provide assistance to those in need,” said Margaret Callahan, CRNA, PhD, FNAP, FAAN, provost of the Health Sciences Division.

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Loyola recently launched Plan 2020, a five-year roadmap that promotes social justice. This story falls into one of the four strategic priorities outlined in the plan. Learn more here.

Kicking off the conference were three speakers who are trying to improve the health needs of those in the greater Chicago area. First was Julie Morita, MD, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Dr. Morita outlined the city’s Healthy Chicago 2.0 plan, which includes goals such as lowering the teen birth rate, increasing school attendance rates among homeless and LGTBQ youth, and making housing affordable for all. She outlined that one of the keys to public health and creating health equity is recognizing that equality doesn’t necessarily mean there is equity.

“In the past people thought if they gave everyone the same type of treatment or prevention that was the answer,” said Dr. Morita. “But that’s not taking into account where they live, their circumstances. We’re trying to focus on what does each person need to have a good outcome? We’re making sure we’re targeting our resources and efforts towards those who need it the most so they can have healthy and successful lives.”

Loyola alum Terry Mason, MD (BS ’74), COO of the Cook Country Department of Public Health, stated: “Why do health disparities exist? Because they’re supposed to. Look at the history of our country and how public policy and laws have created social and racial constructs, housing inequality and much more.”

Dr. Mason underlined Dr. Morita’s point that the limited public health resources need to be focused on the populations who need it the most. He also noted that the difficult questions need to be asked to address the root causes of health inequalities.

“We need to ask why certain children aren’t prepared for high school, why they’re engaging in risky behavior,” said Dr. Mason. “And here in academia, we need to acknowledge and promote the contributions of non-Europeans to the world and show there is value in all peoples, otherwise we’ll lose the richness of contributions of all peoples of the world.”

Closing the morning session was Bechara Choucair, MD, MS, senior vice president of Safety Net Transformation and Community Health at Trinity Health. He noted Trinity’s hospitals were focusing more on getting out into the communities and learning their health needs rather than just seeing them for hospital visits.

“We’re deploying community health workers to specifically help people living in poverty,” said Dr. Choucair. “In one case they helped a woman modify her home so she would be able to wash her hair in the sink by herself. That was important to her, and improved her quality of life and in turn her health.”

After the speakers, Loyola faculty, staff, and local community leaders dispersed into different groups to discuss what potential tangible things the University could do to address some of the issues brought up. There were three focuses: research, education, and community.

The groups determined that leveraging the many resources and areas of expertise Loyola already has is important. The main issues they are looking to prioritize are environmental exposures, the stress and trauma of violence, housing inequality, and mass incarceration.

“Today was an extremely important first step in developing meaningful strategies to address health disparities and inequalities,” said Vicki Keough, PhD, APRN-BC, ACNP, FAAN, dean of the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing.

To learn more about the University’s strategic plan, visit LUC.edu/plan2020. To learn more about our next steps to address health disparities, click here.