Health Equity

Prioritizing Equity video series: Anchor strategy: A place-based approach for health equity


In this Aug. 7, 2023 edition of the Prioritizing Equity series, we explore West Side United and its work to leverage and anchor a strategy to address the drivers of inequities and to build community health and wealth.

  • Adam Alonso, chief executive officer, BUILD Chicago
  • David Ansell, MD, MPH, Michael E. Kelly Presidential Professor of Internal Medicine and senior vice president, associate provost for community health equity, Rush University Medical Center
  • Ayesha Jaco, MAM, executive director, West Side United
  • Diana Derige, DrPH, vice president of health equity strategy, AMA Center for Health Equity

Derige: Hello everyone and welcome to a new episode of the Prioritizing Equity Series. I'm Diana Derige, and I have the pleasure of being your moderator today. I'm the vice president of health equity strategy at the American Medical Association. In today's panel, we'll explore West Side United and its work to leverage and anchor a strategy—to address the drivers of inequities and to build community health and wealth.

In 2022, the American Medical Association began this journey with our initial $2 million investment in West Side United's multipronged social impact investing approach. Today, AMA has committed a total of $5 million over five years and is an official West Side United anchor mission partner. In this role, AMA is a partner through a community-centric collaborative approach.

West Side United partners to make impact investments in West Side communities that are consistent with the goals of economic vitality strategy, of increasing life expectancy, improving well-being and reducing hardship. Partners include its founding hospitals, the Illinois Medical District, the Northern Trust and now AMA. The impact investing strategy aims to connect organizations, like us, who have available investible dollars to Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, to fund low interest loans and increase communities' access to capital.

I am joined today by two leaders within West Side United and a recipient of one of the social impact investment loans. They will help us dive deeper into this conversation and discussion. Please join me with a warm welcome to Adam Alonso, chief executive officer of BUILD Chicago, Ayesha Jaco, executive director of West Side United and Dr. David Ansell, Michael E. Kelly Presidential Professor of Internal Medicine and senior vice president, associate provost for community health equity at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. I'm honored to welcome these dynamic leaders to this conversation today.

So, I gave a very broad background, even though lots of words and detailed in it, but I wanted to know how everyone's coming to this conversation today. It's always good to get a grounding of where you are and how you're coming to that. So, Adam, let's start with you. What's going on in your world today?

Alonso: Sure. Thank you, Diana, for having me on. I come to this meeting excited. We're halfway through summer of seven weeks of summer camp, and anyone who does this work knows that the summers are long and arduous. And we've launched our summer hours for the community, which has been great and successful thus far. So, I come energized and ready to share my experiences.

Derige: Excellent. Dr. Ansell?

Dr. Ansell: Yeah, I'm thrilled to be here, thrilled to have the AMA as part of it. Thrilled to see my colleague, Ayesha Jaco here, and Adam and his great work at BUILD, which I got a chance to tour before it opened, and it's that type of community capital investments that we're looking to do in every neighborhood across the West Side of Chicago. So, it's a nice meeting ground I think, for all of us.

Derige: Excellent. Ayesha, how are you coming to this conversation today?

Jaco: Hi Deanna, and hello to Adam and David. I'm coming to this conversation refreshed, also acknowledging that we are breezing through summer. Here at West Side United, we are gearing up for another round of small business grants and an application that will launch in the next few weeks. We are also just excited about the trend that AMA has brought to our work, by coming in as an additional anchor to help in the health equity space. We have since recruited another partner, and so that trend that you set is gaining momentum. So, coming in very excited about some of those milestones from summer.

Derige: Excited to be a trendsetter in this, so thank you all for joining me. I think it's important to talk about that. I think we often kind of confuse time and space about how things happen. And while we've been in this for three years now, Rush started doing this work a while ago, and I won't say a long time ago, but there was some time put in. So Dr. Ansell, can you talk to me about Rush being a forerunner in this work? And talk to me about anchor mission approach and what it means to be an anchor mission institution?

Dr. Ansell: Well, thank you Diana. Yeah, I was back in about 2013, 2014 when we were meeting at Rush. I was the chief medical officer, and then gave that up to move into this new space. We were thinking of changing our mission from being the best in health care to improving the health of the populations that we serve and the diverse communities we serve. And we realized that the methodology of being good in health care would not solve the problems of our communities that had been historically disinvested. I say capital was extracted from many of these neighborhoods, and that we needed to think through a different strategy and we asked the question, what if we could leverage our business units to invest in West Side communities.

Structural racism, economic disinvestment, these are historical trends, but they're perpetuated in the day-to-day, and we had been bystander to it and so we had accountability. That launched our anchor mission. We decided we become an anchor institution to hire locally, purchase locally, invest locally and volunteer locally. That led us to say, "Well, we can't do it alone. Let's get the other hospitals in and the community in." And that led to West Side United. So that was a number of years ago, and we're happy that we've made it through the pandemic. And we've been investing all along the way, actually replacing capital that's been historically extracted.

Derige: I'm going to ask you to go into it a little bit, you talked about a decade there real briefly, and I think that's what people often get confused. They're like, "There was something great, this magic happened and quickly we fixed it." Right? And so is there any other points in that evolutionary timeline you'd like to point out between 2013 to where we are today? 

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Dr. Ansell: Well, I think it was naming root causes—that was really important for us as an institution. For example, I was chief medical officer. You always expect health care to go well, but if something goes wrong, you have to do a root cause analysis, not because there's one thing that leads to harm, but there's a series of things. And we did a root cause analysis and said, "Why is the life expectancy so low in Garfield Park?" Now if we took to our board the map of the West Side of Chicago along the L Track and showed if you lived in the loop, you could be 85, but if you lived in Garfield Park at that time, it was under 69, now it's 66. And that 16-year life expectancy gap then, we said is, "You could put a doctor doctor's office on every corner and not solve for this."

It was the social and structural determinants of health., And we named structural racism and economic deprivation is the root cause of it. And then when you've done a root cause analysis, say, "Okay, if those are the root causes, how do we think about repairing that?" And that led not just our team, but our board, senior leadership at Rush to make a strategy that we're going to have a measurable impact across all of our communities, including our employees, including our patients, including representation across our institution. But in particular, those social and structural determines of health at the community level, things like structural racism and economic deprivation that we felt were at the root of poor health outcomes.

That just led that reframing of the idea we had to solve from getting better health care outcomes, which are of course important to solving for the life expectancy gap and those root causes and naming them. But you could say it was before the pandemic. As for all of that, we had named racism at our institution as something that we had to take on, which is a long-term battle and journey. And the down payment on that is this anchor mission.

Derige: Well, thank you for that. I think that identifying those root causes and naming things like racism are important. Ayesha, West Side United is addressing life expectancy gap, and then we have to operationalize that and you have to organize these institutions. Can you talk to me about the role of the anchor institutions, the role of West Side United organizing this work, and what you've seen the impact so far?

Jaco: Absolutely. So to David's point, once Rush began to reorganize itself and really commit to health equity within its doors as well as bring along peer institutions, the table that was set that formed West Side United was all about galvanizing the collective impact of the six health care systems in our network that really have the West Side as its backyard to some degree. So in doing that, that really set an expectation for there to be early wins within the anchor mission space in a collaborative way, where you had historical competitors coming together to really take on collective targets around hiring, procurement. As we're talking about today, social impact investing.

So with that, another key component once that table was set, was to talk to community, and to hit the ground within the geographic boundaries of West Side United, where we claimed 10 West Side zip codes to talk to residents within those communities to see what they thought to be the driving force between the life expectancy gap and healthier outcomes. And what we heard during that period, a year after this table was set by David and other peers, was that people wanted four things. Safe neighborhoods, jobs, meaningful things for young people to do, including equitable education and yes, equitable access to care.

So from that, we then continued our working community by gaining that trust and leveraging community voice, by building a planning committee who helped curate those conversations of community members who worked and lived across the West Side. And after a year period and getting that feedback, we then institutionalized the voice of community. And I don't mean that in a way where we stripped away the essence of what community is, where people couldn't show up as their authentic selves, but that we made sure there was a seat at the table so that we built a community advisory council.

So that group came in to sit across from leaders like Dr. David Ansell, Mary Kate Daly and others to really help build out West Side United, in terms of our commitment to not only looking at anchor mission capabilities from health systems, but what it meant to have deeper investments around access to care, education, neighborhood and the built environment, including things like food, and then our focal point around jobs and that anchor mission target.

So I think the ability to bring together healthcare, community voice for this new collaborative and these multiple strategies, really became a national model, building off of the work that Rush had began already in the anchor mission space. But also looking at health equity naming and claiming structural racism, bringing in anchor partners like the AMA in lieu of a pandemic. As David mentioned, continuing our work set back in 2016 really began to galvanize this movement that we began here in Chicago by hospitals naming and claiming their role in disinvestment, and bringing community along the way to help begin that repair.

So when we think about bridging or now eliminating the life expectancy gap between Chicago's Loop and 10 West Side communities, it is around directing capital in places that have been historically disinvestment in a timely and sustainable manner, being guided by community residents and community leaders, being fueled by engines like the American Medical Association, our hospital partners and others. So when I think about impact, I think the power has been in that ability to bring people together.

Derige: I think it's amazing that the different levels of organizing that have happened. You're talking about the anchor missions, I understand the vision you're talking about, West Side United as an organization organizing those ideas. And then you're talking about the organizations which are part of it at the community level and the people at the ground level that are doing this work. And to me, that is no small feat to organize all those things at different levels.

Adam, I'm going to move to you, because you're one of those organizations within the West Side that is both benefiting from this, but also helping us as anchor institution organizations to figure out where we should be and how we can leverage the work that we do. Can you share with me a little bit about BUILD, the mission and your work that you're doing?

Alonso: Sure. Well BUILD has been in the City of Chicago for over 54 years now. We're a comprehensive youth services and serving young people as young as six. So they're in first grade all the way through their emerging adult years, and quite honestly, a little bit later than that. And our goal really has always been to have young people see a path forward for themselves. So being a critical support maybe in a time of need, but also, just as a way of exploration. Is college for me? What about a sport? What about some sort of art form? And maybe even settling in at a therapeutic relationship with one of our therapists, to kind of talk through some trauma.

So that's where BUILD's work really is at its best. And of course, we've always been anchored into our neighborhoods. We know how important it's to stay connected. So you don't just show up and provide a service, but have no real connection deeper into the neighborhood. And so our strategy has always been to go out block by block connect and be a partner around thinking and having a voice. Even if it's not necessarily our area of expertise, but what do we know from our work and how is it related.

So I know we were part of some of the early conversations with Rush and when this work was coming together. But yeah, as it relates to what's more recently happened to BUILD, we launched a capital campaign to build a teen and community center. It is 50,000 square feet of space. And I'll tell you, we had a great partner with IFF. And I named them because I'll tell you, with a lot of the development that's happening, it is nonprofit partners, executive directors, many of us have never done this before. And so when you're talking about a $23 million campaign and your operating budget might be four or five million, we're taking on the impossible, quite honestly.

My experience with IFF and what they've always done is to believe in us. They understand why it's important for the neighborhood. And so we've been a beneficiary of their investment in BUILD. Happy to report that we wrapped up our campaign. We had a ribbon cutting in February of this year. So we are only newly living in our building and running all sorts of cool programs. But I think what's been exciting about the investment, because it's not just that they invested in BUILD. Clearly, as we all know, they invested in Austin, they invested sort of in the West Side as well, is how folks can come to use BUILD. But I can tell you that there's been about a dozen community partners who've already held big events inside of our own building, actually even before we held any events of our own. And part of that was always written into the work we would do and why the investment from others is going to yield that we as a recipient are going to continue to invest deeply in the neighborhoods.

So when you have a small nonprofit that wants to hold the girls a mental health fair, of course, open the doors, you let them come in. It's not about charging money for the space. It's about this is how we function as partners. Congressman Danny Davis coming in to hold his West Side Health Fair with us, sitting here holding a job fair. We held our first restorative justice conference here on the West Side and spend sort of a culmination of that. And I think what we're doing is showing that the investment is much deeper than just to BUILD. It really is truly as a recipient, our responsibility is to make sure that the rest of the neighborhood and communities around us know, whatever you need, here's a space for you as well. And this is what investment looks like of our time and space as well as what a CDFI has done for us in our project.

Derige: Adam, can you elaborate on ... 'Cause the CDFI and you named IFF worked with you on loan. What else were they able to support you in doing? Is there any other things, services they're able to—

Alonso: Sure.

Derige: Yeah.

Alonso: They've done quite a bit, actually. It started in 2017, we were part of the first Stronger Nonprofits initiative with IFF, which is about having nonprofits work through and strengthen our financial capabilities. And we had direct work with Natural Management Associates, which is now BDO. We also had a survey done to let us know what it would cost if we were to embark upon a capital campaign project. What it would cost, they gave us options. And honestly, it was a bridge loan to a state capital grant and some pledges that we had outstanding. And now all of us know when you say state capital grant, there's that, "Oh, why will you get it?" All of us know that sometimes it's a little bit slower, but they were great and they were fantastic.

As I said, there's a cheerleading component to this that I can say in hindsight that was critical. And at no point did IFF say, "You know what, Adam? This is too big for you as an organization, too big for you as a professional. And I don't know that this is really going to work out." They were a cheerleader and found ways to make this entire project come to pass, and then celebrate alongside with us with what all of that meant. So that's been our connection with IFF. And I'll tell you, I shared that with all of my colleagues who reached out, is always making sure to connect in with IFF and see what they can do for them in their projects as well.

Dr. Ansell: If I might, Diana.

Derige: I appreciate that. Yeah, I'm sorry. Go ahead David.

Dr. Ansell: I could connect the dots for a sec.

Derige: Please.

Dr. Ansell: So here we were saying we've been around on the West Side of Chicago for 180 years, and these conditions happened under our watch. We named racism and economic deprivation as root causes. We understood that we had to take a different approach to community investment, not only in the people but the infrastructure if we were going to make the difference. We realized we couldn't do it alone, we needed to do it with others, and so how the AMA got in here. And we put together a roadmap of how to do it called, the Anchor Mission Playbook that then got used nationally. The first time we did impact investing, we sat in Garfield Park and we went through projects. In those early days, there weren't that many projects. And then what's happened over time is that the projects have grown. So by bringing capital in, then the projects can go.

IFF is something that's called community development financial institutions. These are not-for-profit banks that do these specific investment in not-for-profit organizations. And Rush and West Side United and the other partner hospitals, the AMA partner with the CDFI, like IFF and like CCLF and others like LISC, to find the projects and we say, "We want you to invest in West Side projects." And then I get to tour this wonderful facility. It's in the community. They have washing machines and dryers for kids who don't have a place to wash. They've really thought about the lives of children. And it's a community as you see that those dollars investments pay bundles down the road, because that was the flywheel effect of this that we're trying to get.

We believe there was zero accountability when the capital was extracted. And we know that this flywheel effect will occur when we put capital back in the neighborhoods like we've done with BUILD. And so that's now you see the virtuous circle of this work. And we believe there's about a $70 billion capital deficit on the West Side of Chicago. So a $25 billion project, $50 million project, every neighborhood deserves a BUILD or like we're trying to do in Garfield Park, a Sankofa Wellness Village. Every neighborhood deserves that, but that's the downstream impact of this work.

Derige: No, thank you for connecting those dots. I mean, that is what I love most about this opportunity is that it gives people to do what they do best. BUILD was what they do best is providing that space, knowing their community and being there. Adam's work is amazing there. We're not asking to figure it all out. We're partnering them with CDFIs that can help them figure it out. And I love that you said, "They had no point that they tell you this is too much. You shouldn't even try this." They said, "Do what you do best. We'll figure it out." And to your point, David, where we came in as anchor mission investors, as social impact investors, we said, "Here are the resources." I could sit and pretend like I knew all of the answers, but I have CDFIs help direct and figure out what to do. And so it's this evolution, this collective impact, having a backbone organization like West Side United to bring it all together.

So it is amazing work. I mean this question is for everyone, this next one is. What are the lessons have we learned from implementing and leveraging this approach? I mean, David definitely walked through all the points. Ayesha, is there anything that you were like that aha moment in any of this work that you've done? Or Adam as you've been part of this as well?

Jaco: I think for us, there's been a recent shift in our North Star, which had traditionally been to decrease the life expectancy gap by 50% by 2030, which was audacious pre-COVID, but we were organizing ourselves to do that. And COVID really became an equalizer in terms of bringing us down a bit from that the audaciousness of that dream. And one aha moment for me was in a retreat that we had with our community members, with our hospital partners. We're talking about the North Star and which way we should go. And one of the community members raised her hand and said, "How dare us? How dare we tell young people on the West Side that there's a 50% chance they're going to make it?" And that led after looking at the science and bringing in the Department of Public Health, the collaborative of data scientists along with community for us to move to a mission of eradicating the gap.

So taking away the time bound nature, and then also aligning ourselves in this continued all hands on deck approach, so that we continue to make sure that all young people on the West Side live to blow out 100 birthday candles if possible. So having a BUILD where they're working with first through upwards of 18, 24, having health systems at the table, having the American Medical Association is just a play on why that's important in terms of how we work together. So that for me was an aha moment.

Alonso: I think there were a couple aha moments. I feel like I've been living them every day when I come to work. But one was the stress of doing this campaign and raising this kind of money, when I had never done a campaign before, never raised this kind of money. And then it just struck me that the building is a tool, and you need the tool to do the work. And that what I should really be worried about is what happens when we open. Because it's not just that it's an exclusive teen center, it's a community center. So you've got all ages, seniors, parents. You've got young kids, you've got teenagers, you've got everyone in between.

So that was one aha moment, and I think the other one was that our investment is really about investing in peace. And I know that sounds kind of cheesy and cliche, but it goes back to if you don't have a safe community, you don't have safe schools, you don't have the life expectancy. We know all the issues around gun violence. And so our going deeper into the investment of peace, and investing in peace looks a lot of ways to do that. And so we are actively doing deeper investments across many of the things that we're doing, as well as bringing in other community partners as I've mentioned earlier, because that's another level of investing deeply into peace. And so that is what has been, I think one of the aha moments for me, is that to go much deeper in this investment.

Derige: Appreciate that. So David, I want to turn back to you, Dr. Ansell here. So having worked at community for a long time, we've all been on these conversations with each other, you understand what Adam was saying about investing in peace, going back to peace. Did you envision having that conversation with the large academic health care system or even your partners at AMA? And how did you bring them along on this journey to understand that?

Dr. Ansell: I have no idea, but I will say that this is. So the paradigm under which we'd been operating has failed. And one of that, I was the Chief Medical officer at Rush, but I'd worked on the West Side for my whole career, and I'd been at Cook County Hospital and Sinai Health System for 30 years. And I saw the destruction in the bodies of my patients and in their neighborhoods. And it really became clear to me that what I had learned in medical school and what most doctors learned about what creates health was flawed, seriously flawed, so to a point where I couldn't keep being a chief medical officer anymore. It wasn't that you couldn't keep making the hospital higher quality and Rush's a very top quality hospital, not just in the United States, in the world, but it was not the correct problem to be solving.

So that was the number one thing. And the second thing I think was, and this came from my boss at the time, Larry Goodman, who was the CEO at Rush and the board embraced this idea. It was like the movie Moana, where she wants to leave the island. We had this beautiful island. Why do you want to leave it? We're already top in health care. Why do you want to leave it? Because we were solving the wrong problem. And people bought into that to improve the health of the population, which was a mission change, you had to think about it differently.

The second thing was talking to Larry is the problem we have in life is not about thinking big. It's not thinking big enough. And I think when you listen to Adam and Ayesha here, one of the things that we understood is that this partnership with the community is so important that we needed to think about how you bring the resources to the point of delivery in the community, like in Austin on Harrison Street where BUILD is. It was a different way of thinking of health and wellness that required one to get out of your box and into the community. And in every community in Chicago, there are Adam Alonsos, with ideas of how they know how to solve problems. And well, our job is to partner with them, support them, and bring capital.

So those ideas, I think you can see even in this one example, I talk about the flywheel, that this is how we're going to invest in peace, in people and in places through this mechanism. Rush could never figure this out, nor could the AMA, but Adam can figure it out and Ayesha can figure it out. And so that's what's fantastic about this. And the challenge is, is bringing others in. So the thinking even bigger we'll say is, we have not yet had a corporation come into this. I'm a chair of a for-profit corporation. You got all the not-for-profit. I challenge anyone listening or they're probably not listening, but we need for-profit corporations that are sitting on boatloads of dollars to take a small percent of their reserves and invest like this, because then you'll get more and more capital and let the community lead.

So I think this is the beauty of this work is that you name a problem, you name something that feels like it's impossible to solve for racism, structural violence, and then you begin to see the path forward. And I think that's the optimism about this sort of approach.

Derige: I appreciate that. I'm going to ask you a question that no one ever likes or maybe they do. Maybe you will answer this one. You'll like to answer this one. Would you have done anything different on this journey?

Dr. Ansell: Here's what I think the challenge of this work is, is not moving fast enough. These equities that we're talking about, and we've seen this within Rush with our employees where we've done a lot of things to try to improve the wellbeing of our employees and the wealth creation opportunities for employees, but there's gaps that still exist. And these inequities are unjust by their very definition. And therefore, you cannot move fast enough to close them. And if I have any regret, it's not being able to move fast enough.

The pandemic really was a huge setback for everyone but taking on racism in all its forms and in its connection to capitalism, so that economic deprivation that comes not from people not working, they're working, but they can't make enough money is a critical problem. So the gap I felt is the urgency, maybe because I'm very old by now, is the urgency of acting, of needing to act and the urgency to convince others to come along.

So when the AMA comes along, it's huge, 'cause it injects fuel into this effort. And when you sit with an Adam Alonso who's been a beneficiary of an IFF investment that we invest into, you say, "Well, that's fuel for this energy." But the problem is these are awful injustices and people are literally dying as a result of them, and you cannot move fast enough to close them.

Derige: Right and I think that's an important concept that people often forget. We read the statistics, we kind of know the information, but those are people's lives and those are people's families every day. And so there is an urgency to that and an importance of that. And I, for one, am very grateful as best many Chicago ones are. I'm sure, when we did have the pandemic West Side United was organized and prepared to help, because we needed them at that moment to be connected to community and help all the places that needed to get connected and people get connected.

I want to take what David asked us to think about thinking big and Adam, what's next? What can you share with me about BUILD and relationship to its community, to West Side United? What is the big thing? What's the big next dream? The big thing next?

Alonso: Well, thank you Dr. Ansell, because I think you're right. It's about how we can't move fast enough. And I know that I've been impatient my entire life. So being in the space to push and push and push the board and others truly move quickly, I think it has paid off for where we're at today. But I'll share with you this. I think for us it's about possibility. And I say that, because as a youth service organization, it really is this what we've done to date, and this building really has transformed us without us thinking that it was going to change us.

Not just because of the sheer size of the space that we operate into, but it now has opened up so many possibilities for us to think differently about the work. 'Cause you can have a great solid program after school, and I'm not knocking any of that, 'cause we do those. But imagine if you can do a restorative justice conference in your entire space. Imagine if you can add the field museum take one whole part of your building and set up an installation on the West Side, right? Imagine the possibilities that you have to move forward. And I think that's what I feel like where we are at right now, is realizing the possibilities for bigger, crazier dreams, if you will, that are about exposing our young people and community that this is something that is yours. You should expect it. We want to change the narrative around that.

I remember when we first were asking our young people what they wanted, and then as it started to come to pass and we were showing them our renderings, it was beautiful and yet sad at the same time. They're like, "Is this really for us?" And that stabbed me right in the heart, because if you were out in the suburbs somewhere, you'd be like, "Well, when is it going to be ready for us?" Not asking if you are entitled to or deserving of this. And that was like, you know what? No one better try to get in the way, because these young people absolutely must have this now and as soon as we can make it happen. But possibility, so we're excited for it.

Derige: It's amazing. And that's that whole metaphor, that transformation, right? As marginalized, and I'll speak for myself as somebody who's been in minoritized community, always having to be small, right?

Alonso: Right.

Derige: In physical learning to take up space and learning that this is my space. So you're helping create that space for youth and to feel that this is what I deserve and this beauty is part of my community where I am and I think that's amazing. Watching that transformation has to be amazing firsthand.

Alonso: I mean, look. We just had, on Friday, we did our big Hip 50 year, Hip Birthday to hip hop and we brought in a roller rink into our gym. So all these parents who brought their skates with them, having skates for the kids. Where is there a roller rink here in Austin, West Side? That's the sort of stuff that I think you can do it. Let them dream and imagine more for themselves, for their kids, for their community. And this is just a tool to help do that.

Derige: Thank you. That's amazing. So Ayesha, the question is for you. What do you see in the future? And I know you don't make distant goals, 'cause you know that you can achieve them. So what are you thinking for West Side United?

Jaco: So for us, I'll share two things. One is around measurement. We talked about the origins of West Side United, the origins of the anchor mission strategy. And if you look at our impact to date, we can tell you how many hires, how many invested dollars, what we've done to diversify supply chain across hospitals. Now, we want to go deeper and show how we're impacting the median income, the increase of the median income in West Siders, how we're decreasing or eliminating unemployment rates. And so marrying our strategies, so that they're more embedded into the metrics associated with eradicating the gap is key for us.

So we're zeroing in there. We're deepening our commitment to maternal child health initiatives, thinking about communities like Garfield Park that have the highest mortalities and morbidities. So for us, it's around deepening our commitments and being more intentional around what it's going to take to eradicate the gap, so that everything we do tracks alongside that.

Then the other thing is when we think about a community that has the lowest life expectancy on the West Side, Garfield Park, us really being able to, through the Sankofa Wellness Village, be part of a movement that is redirecting investment alongside that corridor where Adam down the way, there was a roller rink that my mom used to go to back in the '60s. So to your point, bringing back that spirit and seeing all of our strategies kind of come alive in this one microcosm of a community is very powerful.

So we're very committed to seeing what that looks like so that we can take this to Milwaukee. So that we can take this model to Cleveland and other urban centers that have had the same level of disinvestment due to structural racism, historical disinvestment that we helped to repair, leveraging what we've learned here in Chicago. So doubling down on measurement and then thinking about how we'll continue to be a national model.

Derige: Ayesha, Dr. Ansell mentioned this. I'm going to take my privilege here and ask you to tell us a little bit about Sankofa Village, 'cause this was an idea that's moving very fast towards realization.

Jaco: Yes. And David, feel free to jump in. That was born out of the vision of Pastor Marshall Hatch from New Mount Pilgrim Church, a pillar in the community for three decades, seeing a vision for what the community could be, having a lived experience in that community, seeing the community after the riots in 1968. And having a fuel and fire, it came from that. So if you think about a table and you have Pastor Hatch there with that vision, and then here comes Angela Taylor pulling up a table who's a lifelong resident, who's done work over the decades. And then you bring in the vision of Dr. Ansell. And we talk about the resource, the fact that community has the answer, but the gap in resourcing, that marriage is what began to happen as this vision of Pastor Hatch and community began to take flight.

So to your point, it was quick. We did have the Chicago Prize to help organize the thinking and to help format it in a way, but it was born out of that. So essentially, what this will do is bring a wellness center within the Madison Corridor that will allow access to health care via Erie Family Health. So they'll be co-locating a full service health center. Rush will have a center for wellbeing in that space. West Side United will be headquartered there. We'll have a cafe. We'll have a financial institution, so that we get more bankable residents.

So in this village, the Heartbeat is the health center, the wellness center. A block away is an art center for families, the MAAFA Center for Arts and Activism. A block and a half away is the K, which is a social business incubator. And in response to the closure of Aldi's almost three years ago, there's a community grocery initiative working to get a store there. So this is a movement born out of the vision of community with West Side United being a convener, Rush, Erie, the Austin Y or the YMCA, forgive me, who will also have recreational space there. So it is this collaboration across those entities helping to leverage the vision of community. And so we're very proud of that. And David, turning to you.

Dr. Ansell: That takes anchor mission to that next level, and taking anchor institutions who are willing to bring resources into a community and provide services with the building itself owned by the community. That the revenue from this building will be invested, because it's going to be a revenue generating building from day one, invested into community as well. Phase one is what Ayesha discussed. Phase two is going to be housing, 'cause we don't want to develop and then have the community be gentrified out. So we're really trying to be mindful. It's got a great corridor there.

I think it's another one of these, well, it came out of Pastor Hatch's. They have this beautiful Sankofa window in their Church. And Sankofa is from Ghana and it says the Sankofa bird, his feet are facing forward, but his head is looking back, 'cause the saying says, "You can't move forward without retrieving the things that you've left behind or lost." And that's very the spirit here. There's been things that have been lost that are going to get regained. And the community was very clear. It wants wellness. Health is important, but wellness, wellbeing, peace is huge. And we're going to have to learn from Adam and other projects like this, how do you actually do this? What should we do? What is the connection between Adam on Harrison Street in Austin and this on Madison Street? We've got to bring stronger connections between these projects. But this is real things happening.

It was actually stimulated, because when the day West Side United was being birthed at Malcolm X College in January 2017, I'm at the table with Mrs. Taylor from Garfield Park with Pastor Hatch, and he sees that life expectancy gap I discussed, I mentioned before, and he saw Garfield Park was the lowest. And in a very loud voice, if you know Pastor Hatch said, "The Bible says, 'The last shall be first." And I knew then we had to do something in West Garfield Park. And it was the ideas coming together and as Adam says, "We got to really...hope demands that you do more than you think you can do." And so that led to this project. By the way Adam, Rush should be providing care for children in your building. So that's an offline conversation.

Alonso: Yeah. Well, we're just waiting on the legalese to be completed. And if you can facilitate that on your end, please do so.

Dr. Ansell: Yeah. Okay.

Derige: And that's how things happen, right? Just like that. So as we close this conversation off, I want to give you each an opportunity to share any key takeaways for your audience. People listening to this, being inspired about any advice or takeaways would give them, any recommendations or ideas if they're thinking about doing this kind of work in their own backyard, or where they can get involved to do this kind of work in Chicago. And I'll start with Adam and I'll pass it on.

Alonso: Okay. Well, I think what I realized through our process is that, when I look around now, you have Dr. Ansell here, you've got Ayesha here. Diana, you're here as well. I don't know ever in my professional career when I have thought, I could go and pick up a phone and talk to people that I don't know, but who know the work that we're trying to do to take on something big and transformative for a neighborhood, for a community. So it is big, it's overwhelming, but there's a whole crop of people out there who really do understand the depth of what it means, and are there as a resource to help you figure it out and be a sounding board for you. Which is important because they are big and they're hairy and they're unwieldy and they just feel like they're going to suck you in whole and spit you out. But you realize they're great people who are deeply passionate about this work, even if they don't work in your neighborhood necessarily. And so I would say anyone who's thinking about it, we're all resources here. Reach out, we'll connect and we're available.

Derige: Excellent. Dr. Ansell?

Dr. Ansell: Si, se puede. Si, se puede. If you don't think about it, you can't hope for it. And if you don't hope for it, you can't build it. And I think for anyone who's out there, particularly if you are at an institution that's not doing this, this is eminently doable and is transformative. You can't have a community engagement program if you're not investing directly into the community, into these kind of partnerships. I said, "We had to leave the island, everyone, because the island we were on, COVID showed us that it was broken it." And we said, "We can't go back to believing that was normal." But normal in the future will be this sort of federated approach, integrated approach that brings people together, that Adam has a fantastic program in Austin, and Rush is there providing care for the children and the parents right in that space. And AMA is investing along with others into the next building, in the next neighborhood. So we have to think that Si, se puede. Yes, we can and yes, we should. So that would be for anyone listening here. And by the way, feel free to reach out and contact us. We're very happy to help you think this through.

Derige: Excellent. And Ayesha.

Jaco: In spirit of community, create nothing for community without community. And that's what we've heard directly throughout this entire process. And so, don't create on behalf, but in partnership with. They have the answers, they need access. And so everyone has something unique to bring to the table. So present that, listen when you're going into spaces. Start with a blank sheet of paper if you're working in community, and allow them to help populate that with ideas that they want to activate. And think big. Yes, think big. Echoing what both Adam and David said.

Derige: Thank you. Thank you again for being panelists and engaging in this conversation. Most importantly, thank you to West Side United for setting the table and inviting us for the table. And Dr. Ansell for making sure that we came to the table. And for Adam, making sure, reminding us why we're at that table. So I appreciate all the work that you do. I am always honored and blessed to be part of these conversations and watch work with amazing people. So thank you again for that.

I've told you my due diligence. And in closing, we want to highlight, there's an upcoming National Health Equity Grand Rounds virtual event on August 8 titled, “Breaking Down the Ivory Tower, Building The Healthcare Workforce America Needs.” The speakers there will challenge our audience to address academic elitism and health education, re-imagining the educational system that supports all students and trainees as they learn to care for a diverse patient population. You can sign up and listen to the session and find more information at Thank you again for being here and I look forward to working with you in the future.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed in this video are those of the participants and/or do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.

Table of Contents

  1. Panel
  2. Moderator
  3. Transcript