FAQs

West Side United is here to answer your questions.
What is West Side United?
What are the issues that gave rise to West Side United?
What is health equity?
How did the WSU start?
What is the WSU main goal?
What neighborhoods are the focus of West Side United?
Why focus on the West Side and not other neighborhoods where there is hardship?
Who is in charge of the WSU?
How is this different from other health care collaborations?
How long will the West Side United operate?

What is West Side United?

West Side United (WSU) is a collaborative effort of people and organizations who work, live and congregate on Chicago’s West Side to make their neighborhoods stronger, healthier and more vibrant places to live. It is comprised of health care institutions, residents, civic leaders, community-based organizations, businesses, and faith-based institutions.

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What are the issues that gave rise to West Side United?

The 480,000 people who live in the nine West Side of Chicago neighborhoods that the WSU focuses on experience disproportionate rates of chronic disease, including diabetes, asthma, hypertension and congestive heart failure. There is a significant gap in life expectancy for people who live these neighborhoods and those who live nearby: Residents of West Garfield Park have a life expectancy of less than 69 years, compared to an average life expectancy of 85 years in Chicago’s Loop.

Health inequities like these are caused and exacerbated by social and structural determinants of health, such as access to education, job opportunities, safe housing, health care, reliable transportation, strong social networks and healthy food. These determinants of health in the WSU neighborhoods of focus, which are home to a large population of African American and Latino/Hispanic residents, reflect decades of disinvestment that has resulted in concentrated poverty. The WSU is focused on reducing inequities by building health equity.

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What is health equity?

As defined in a 2017 report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care. For the purposes of measurement, health equity means reducing and ultimately eliminating disparities in health and its determinants that adversely affect excluded or marginalized groups.[1]

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How did the WSU start?

In light of clinical and social science research showing that the fundamental causes of many illnesses shortening the lives of people who live in urban areas are based not in biology or behavior but in the social determinants of health, hospitals are beginning to re-evaluate how they serve the people in their communities. Addressing the root causes of poor health is as important as treating the symptoms of disease.

In January 2017, Rush University Medical Center, Cook County Health and Hospital Systems and UI Health convened a meeting to discuss health inequities and strategies for improving overall well-being. Rush proposed a collaborative model that would leverage hospital business units, patient care and community engagement.

After a year of planning meetings and neighborhood listening sessions, the WSU formally launched in early 2018.

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What is the WSU main goal?

To close the life expectancy gap by 50 percent in each of its nine neighborhoods of focus by 2030.

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What neighborhoods are the focus of West Side United?

The West Side United focuses on the following nine neighborhoods:

  • Austin
  • East Garfield Park
  • Humboldt Park
  • Lower West Side
  • Near West Side
  • West Town
  • North Lawndale
  • South Lawndale
  • West Garfield Park

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Why focus on the West Side and not other neighborhoods where there is hardship?

The neighborhoods where the WSU is focused have some of Chicago’s highest levels of economic hardship and poverty; the lowest life expectancy; and some of the worst health outcomes. These neighborhoods also have a high concentration of health care providers — including six hospital systems — that are positioned to lead this work in partnership with residents and other stakeholders.

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Who is in charge of the WSU?

The work is governed by four committees:

  • The 16-member Planning Committee, made up of eight residents and eight representatives from government, nonprofit, education and health care institutions, directs community partnerships and projects.
  • The Executive Leadership Committee is a group of health care executives who serve the Planning Committee. They champion the collaborative’s work at their institutions, and determine focus areas based on Planning Committee recommendations.
  • The Operations Committee provides logistical support and coordination for the group’s activities, including conducting the 2017 neighborhood listening sessions, providing communication and support for the Planning Committee, setting meeting agendas, and selecting and coordinating outside consultants.
  • The West Side Anchor Committee includes representatives from seven West Side health care institutions that employ more than 43,000 people. The group is working on initiatives to catalyze economic vitality by focusing more hiring, purchasing, investing and volunteering on the West Side. Annually, these institutions hire ~6,000 people and spend $2.8 billion on supplies and services.

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How is this different from other health care collaborations?

According to the Healthcare Anchor Network, The WSU is the largest collaboration among healthcare and other sectors and brings together a number of organizations that formerly viewed themselves as competitors for the same resources — but now see one another as partners in working toward an enormous community-health goal that no institution can achieve on its own.

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How long will the West Side United operate?

Closing the life expectancy gap is an enormous goal — but the members believe that it is achievable with a long-term commitment of at least the next 15–20 years. The collaborative’s 2018 initiatives are meant to lay the groundwork and build momentum for future work.

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[1] Braveman P, Arkin E, Orleans T, Proctor D, and Plough A. What Is Health Equity? And What Difference Does a Definition Make? Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2017.

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