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Health & Medicine in the NYTimes

A letter to the editor by Health & Medicine’s Director of Health Equity Wesley Epplin was published in Friday's (5/13/16) New York Times in response to their recent article, In Deeply Divided Chicago, Most Agree: City Is Off Course (5/6/16).  The Times’ story shared results from a survey of Chicagoans conducted by the paper and the Kaiser Family Foundation which showed divides in people's perceptions of the relative degree of unfairness in the city.

“Residents of Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, appear to have lost faith in many of its essential institutions, including the police, courts and the public schools,” the article stated. And continued: “The sharpest levels of discontent appear among black residents on the South and West Sides. When it comes to hopes for young people, satisfaction with city services and — especially — expectations about interactions with the police, the divide between black and white Chicago is striking.”

The lived experience and perceptions of unfairness measured in the survey are closely related to the wide health inequities--unfair and modifiable differences in health status and outcomes—that are seen in Chicago. A data compendium prepared by the Chicago Department of Public Health and published during the Community Health Assessment phase of Healthy Chicago 2.0 development further highlights these inequities.

In short, the perceived unfairness described in the Time’s article can also be measured in very concrete, objective terms.  Health & Medicine’s letter sought to link what people feel is unjust, with measured social, economic, political, and racial injustices, and also to health inequities.

Health & Medicine is proud to have been involved in developing Healthy Chicago 2.0, advocating for strong goals and objectives on the social determinants of health which were included in the Community Development section of the plan.  Members of Health & Medicine’s staff and board took a leading role in including racism in policing as an impediment to health equity, with a goal and objectives for public health to help address on this long-term injustice. As emphasized in the letter, this will require uniting "people’s demands for political and economic change for a more just city, society and world."

Here is the text of the letter:

Current and historical structural racism, as well as economic and political power inequities, help illuminate the unfairness described in your article.

Chicago Department of Public Health data indicate extreme health inequities — unfair and remediable differences in health status and outcomes across different population groups. In Near North Side, a predominantly white community with per capita income of $86,780, residents enjoyed 85.2 years life expectancy in 2010.

Compare that with 68.8 years in West Garfield Park, a black community a few miles west with per capita income below $20,000.

This 16-year life expectancy gap is both unfair and avoidable. Unfair differences in policing, housing, education, transportation, employment, community development and health care all contribute to health inequities.
Recognizing our unjust avoidable divides — and their causes — can help unite people’s demands for political and economic change for a more just city, society and world.