What Chicago Needs for Health Equity: Imagining an Equity Agenda – Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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What Chicago Needs for Health Equity: Imagining an Equity Agenda

March 27, 2019

Health equity is a process of assurance of the conditions for optimal health for all people. It requires at least three things: 1) valuing all individuals and populations equally; 2) recognizing and rectifying historical injustices; and 3) providing resources according to need. Health inequities will be eliminated when health equity is achieved.
— Dr. Camara Jones

At Health & Medicine, we envision a city that acknowledges the impacts of its policies and systems on the community’s health and wellbeing. We envision a new city council and mayor who put the health of our communities first—one that adopts Dr. Camara Jones’ restorative health equity definition, shown above. Ultimately, we envision a health equity agenda that will move the various sectors of our city toward an equitable city for all Chicagoans.

On December 12, 2018 at SEIU Healthcare IL, Health & Medicine held a town hall meeting, Creating a Health Equity Agenda for the Chicago’s Elections, as part of our Chicago Forum for Justice in Health Policy series. Over 100 stakeholders from a range of sectors including public health, housing, transportation, education, and health care, among others, came together to discuss what belongs on a health equity agenda for Chicago. The purpose of this gathering was to pause and make space for people to imagine what would move the city toward health equity.

After hearing some testimony, participants were divided into tables to discuss major barriers to health equity that our elected officials need to address. Within each discussion group, participants deliberated over possible solutions at different levels of government. We encouraged participants to think about who is most affected by the identified inequity and what groups of individuals must be involved when developing a solution. (Click here to check out our discussion guide, which was designed to support participants in developing their ideas. You can also view the keynote for the forum here.)

Our report, Creating a Health Equity Agenda for the City of Chicago’s 2019 Municipal Elections, summarizes the most emergent issues and recommendations shared by town hall participants. We present ten areas, with each including both issues and needs that were raised by participants as well as policy ideas and recommendations for policymakers. These policy recommendations are not yet developed to the point of ordinances, but could provide a beginning point for elected officials to understand some priorities for advancing health equity.

One of the greatest measures of success or failure of government is the degree to which people are healthy or unhealthy. More importantly, how large or small are the unfair, unjust, and remediable gaps in health across different population groups–health inequities–in the population? Also, are the gaps shrinking or getting worse?

As Chicago has a new incoming City Council, Mayor, and many new department leaders, elected and appointed officials must take into account the roles that they can play in advancing health equity. This is an opportunity to reflect on the various inequities created as a result of unjust policies and practices largely affecting the health status of low-income people and communities of color due to historical and contemporary classism and racism. Our report provides some ideas about potential solutions that could provide guidance for policy development.

Health extends beyond health care services and policies, and the distribution of money, power, and resources shape the distribution of both health and determinants of health in society and our city. Given these connections, every committee within City Council should include health equity on its agenda. In 2019, the next mayor-elect and aldermanic representatives have the opportunity to reform policies and practices to improve the overall health for all Chicagoans by working alongside and looking to leaders from those most impacted by health inequities, organizers and advocates, and other leading grassroots organizations.

This is an opportunity for Chicago to rectify historical injustices and build needed coalitions across communities, agencies, and City Council to push for justice in health.

Get started: New to thinking about the connection of your sector to health equity? Wondering what you can do to support the public’s health? Further reading points below.

  • Read and reference the forum proceedings report as a starting point for policy formation.
  • Learn more about the pattern of health inequities in Chicago by reviewing the Chicago Health Atlas.
  • Ask the following questions, inspired by the above definition of health equity, to guide your work:
    • Does our process value all individuals and populations equally?
    • Have we worked to both recognize and rectify historical injustices?
    • Are we providing resources according to need?
  • Health & Medicine staff are also able to provide tailored consultation, presentations, and assistance for partners in government or the private sector who are seeking to understand the connection between their activities and the health of the public. Click here for more information.