Sinai Urban Health Institute Newsletter
Special Edition: Celebrating 20 Years
Volume 15, Issue 2: April - June, 2020
SUHI Message of Solidarity to our Community and Partners
 Throughout our 20 year history, Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI) has worked in partnership with Chicago’s West and South Side communities to: 1) better understand the social factors underlying health inequities, and 2) collaboratively develop, implement, evaluate, and scale innovative solutions to reach health equity. Our founding director, Dr. Steve Whitman, was a visionary epidemiologist. His life’s mission was the elimination of health inequities, and he explicitly called out racism – interpersonal, structural, and institutional – as their root cause. Dr. Whitman inspired us all to be courageous in our efforts to bring racism to the forefront of public health as a formidable evil that we must acknowledge and address. “It cannot be emphasized enough that this failure [entrenched health inequities] does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, essential structural issues stand in the way of reducing disparities” (Whitman, Public Health Reports , 2001, p. 387).

Like so many, we were heartbroken and outraged by the recent murders of Black men and women at the hands of police, a continuation of the historic violence perpetuated against people of color since our country’s founding. We are inspired by the peaceful protests that have united people from various backgrounds in solidarity around social justice. We are similarly distressed by the striking racial inequities among those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, the persistent racism underpinning our society’s systems and structures continues to produce these unjust outcomes and so many more.

We remain vigilant in our commitment to calling out racism, and supporting efforts to better understand and innovatively address the historical trauma, high rates of disease, and underlying social challenges that contribute to health inequities. SUHI has always been a leader in the fight for health equity in Chicago, and across the country. 

We stand with you.

As we embark on our next 20 years, we are rededicating ourselves to this fight. We recommit ourselves as leaders in understanding and addressing racism in all of its forms as a public health crisis, and to working in partnership with communities towards real, meaningful, and impactful change. We pledge to intentionally look inward to our own policies, procedures, and systems to ensure that we do not perpetuate a racist society, specifically by committing to the conscious diversification of our workforce and leadership. We will not rest until the playing field has been leveled and all members of the communities we serve have the opportunity to live their fullest and healthiest life.  

Please follow this link to view the Racial Equity Rapid Response letter signed by Sinai Health System

Celebrating 20 Years of SUHI

In June, SUHI President Helen Margellos-Anast sat down with Karen Teitelbaum, Sinai Health System President and CEO, to discuss SUHI’s rich 20 year history. Click here to view the video.

Who We Are

On March 1, 2000, Dr. Steve Whitman, a statistician and social epidemiologist from the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), joined Sinai Health System as SUHI’s founding director. Steve came to Sinai to create a unique institute focused on examining and eliminating local-level health disparities in the communities Sinai serves. From the beginning, the model centered on partnering with community members to create community-engaged solutions to improve health. Steve brought with him two fellow CDPH colleagues: Jade Dell, Research Coordinator, and Abigail Silva, Senior Epidemiologist. From this original staff of three, SUHI has now grown to a team of about 35 epidemiologist, community health educators, research specialists, program managers, and supervisors. We will be celebrating our 20 th Anniversary throughout 2020. Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.
What We Do

SUHI’s mission has remained constant, although its wording has changed over these 20 years. From the beginning, we have focused on social epidemiology, recognizing how issues like poverty, social capital, access to health care, and racism, among other factors, impact the health and well being of communities.

SUHI has been talking about racism as an underlying root cause of social and health inequities over our entire 20 year history, long before others were comfortable doing so. We continue to address complex topics, like violence and mortality inequities, that others may shy away from. Dr. Whitman once said, “I cannot see how we will make progress against racial disparities unless we reveal them and proclaim their destructiveness.” [1]

The purpose of SUHI’s data from the very beginning was to use it for action- the improvement of community well-being and elimination of health inequities. We do not believe in doing research on communities but rather with communities, passionately working hand-in-hand with residents and community partners to achieve health equity through excellence and innovation in data-driven research, interventions, and evaluation.
 [1] Whitman S. Racial Disparities in Health: Taking It Personally. Public Health Reports. 2001;116(5):387-389.
20 th Anniversary Special Events

SUHI has a lot to celebrate during our 20 th Anniversary year. We will be reflecting on our history and our successes, while also articulating where we aspire to go over our next 20 years. We plan to celebrate throughout the year (although in this COVID-19 era we will be celebrating virtually) including by hosting our first academic symposium focused on health equity and a book launch event. Stay tuned for a video series highlighting SUHI’s work on moving the needle on social determinants that will launch this fall.

Celebrate with us! Stay tuned for more information:
  • Inequities Symposium– Advancing Urban Health: Moving the Needle on Social Determinants, Spring 2021 
  • SUHI Virtual 20th Anniversary Celebration and Book Launch – Winter/Spring 2021
Where We Are Going

Over its 20 year history, SUHI has defined what it means to conduct community-engaged research aimed at understanding health outcomes and determinants at a hyper-local level, and to respond with innovative, community-informed interventions. Data-centered, SUHI has been successful in leveraging data towards action, and evaluating that action to ensure it is making the intended impact.  
Health Equity Assessment Research (HEAR)

SUHI’s Health Equity and Assessment Research (HEAR) Strategy identifies health disparities by creating data by, for, and with communities and uses this data to develop actionable knowledge for residents, organizations, and others to mobilize towards health equity. We aim to be the go-to research center for conducting place-based, community-driven health assessments that address the broad spectrum of social and structural factors influencing health and wellness. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, community-level assessments have been especially important in documenting underlying disparities in COVID-19 infection, morbidity, and mortality across Black and Latino/a communities, as well as social factors hindering recovery from the pandemic’s health, economic, and social impacts. SUHI’s HEAR team has taken an active role in citywide efforts to address these health inequities through its participation on Mayor Lightfoot’s Racial Equity Rapid Response Data Taskforce and the Chicago COVID-19 Data Commons.

Looking forward to the next 20 years, the HEAR team will continue to produce knowledge by, for, and with communities that targets the elimination of systemic racism across Chicago and beyond. Our commitment is articulated by public health professional and spoken word artist Shaneah Taylor, MPH, “Health equity supersedes the consideration of you and me. It is the ability to tackle disparities widely and innovatively.” We will not only continue our work to engage community in all that we do, but focus more intentionally on building community capacity to use data to advocate for collaborative and multi-sector change that improves health. The following selection of HEAR projects highlights these goals: 

  •  Our ¡Vive Saludable! team is creating a plan for Sinai Health System to enhance the provision of culturally sensitive health care services to Latino communities. As part of this project, SUHI convened community representatives and leaders as well as Sinai caregivers to develop a ¡Vive Saludable! Implementation Plan. We collaborated with leaders of local Quality of Life planning efforts to ensure the ¡Vive Saludable! Plan reflected community-specific priorities. Overall, the Plan provides a roadmap to improve Sinai’s provision of culturally- and linguistically-appropriate care, increase community outreach and access to care, and diversify Sinai’s caregiver workforce.
  • The Research Activism for Youth (RAY) Program, in its second year of programming, sees youth as key drivers of innovation and health improvement across our communities. The program aims to expose youth from local neighborhoods to health research and advocacy in order to empower them to take action and create positive change in their lives and communities. This year, the HEAR team changed the program from an in-person format to a virtual learning platform to ensure that we could provide programming in a safe and socially-distanced environment.
  • Alongside the Chicago Department of Public Health, Rush University Medical Center, and West Side United, SUHI co-leads the East Garfield Park Best Babies Zone (BBZ), which builds collaboration between multi-sector partners and residents to address birth inequities. The BBZ is responsive to community-defined needs, grounded in place, and rooted in racial equity, and aims to build continuums of care across the lifespan. A community-based BBZ Advisory Team of over 20 public health, health care, social service, and residential members oversees all BBZ activities and strategic directions. The group was named an official BBZ by CityMatCH in July 2019.
Community Health Innovations (CHI)

SUHI’s CHI strategy addresses health inequities with innovative solutions through leadership in developing, implementing, evaluating, and scaling community health worker (CHW) interventions. SUHI has 20 years of success researching CHW interventions and, via CROWD (Center for CHW Research, Outcomes and Workforce Development), providing CHW training and consulting. In response to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, the CHI team quickly transitioned to virtual platforms and responded to the needs of our communities, which are amongst those most impacted. Our COVID-19 response effort has included:
  • Delivering COVID-19 response training for CHWs and others supporting patients with their health and social needs;
  • Following up with Sinai Health System patients diagnosed with COVID-19 once they are home, which includes assisting with social needs, supporting patients in following their discharge plans, providing needed social support, and communicating back to Sinai’s clinical teams;
  • Transitioning our CHW workforce from a face-to-face model to conducting health education programs by phone or telehealth platforms;
  • Working closely with Sinai Community Institute, SHS’s social service arm, to pilot test and evaluate a contact tracing program in North Lawndale focused on high risk youth populations.

Beyond filling these immediate needs, SUHI and CROWD are actively working on longer-term strategies to enhance workforce development, to build a workforce to not just respond to the needs at this moment, but to have the necessary skills and training needed in the post-COVID-19 environment. One of these efforts is described below. 

In January, SUHI received $570,000 from JPMorgan Chase through the Chicago Healthcare Workforce Challenge, as part of the firm’s $40 million, three-year commitment to connecting South and West side residents with economic opportunity. In partnership with Esperanza Health Centers, Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, West Side United and others, SUHI will launch a new population health career pathway program to connect Latinx job seekers with a high school diploma with career development opportunities in Chicago’s healthcare sector while aligning with the public health and community needs emerging from the COVID-19 crisis. This work builds on SUHI’s leadership and success with the Center for CHW Research, Outcomes and Workforce Development (CROWD), expands SUHI’s CHW training to a multi-track career pathway training program, and aims to develop clear pathways to help build longer-term public health infrastructure; especially among communities that have suffered historically from disinvestment and high unemployment rates.
Evaluation and Technical Assistance (ETA)

Since 2008, SUHI’s ETA strategy has implemented best practices to assess the effectiveness of health programs and systems of care and empower community-based organizations through evaluation capacity-building and technical assistance. ETA staff use both qualitative and quantitative methods, such as focus groups, interviews, document review, surveys, process maps, and data analysis, to ensure thorough and appropriate methods are being implemented for each project. Our vision is to use data-driven research, evaluation methodology, and collaboration to achieve health equity.

In February, SUHI ETA was awarded a $160,000 grant from Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to conduct a mixed-methods evaluation to understand coupon redemption practices and nutritional impact among WIC clients on the Westside of Chicago who participate in the Farmers Market Nutrition Program. This evaluation will inform state and national Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) policies, and strategies to improve nutrition among pregnant and post-partum mothers and their children. This evaluation, in partnership with Sinai Community Institute, will take place over the next two years, with the specific timeline dependent upon the impact of COVID-19. SUHI's ETA staff have also been on the forefront of the COVID-19 response in our communities by participating in the Mayor’s Racial Equity Rapid Response team. We look forward to continuing to be leaders in evaluative efforts to support a more equitable Chicago.
Academic Partnerships

SUHI increasingly partners with academic institutions across the Chicago-land region to deal with complex population health issues and to teach and inspire the next generation of researchers, providers, and advocates. Over the past year, we have hosted student interns from Chicago Medical School, DePaul University, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. A SUHI researcher, Bijou Hunt, was named the mentor of the year for Northwestern’s Applied Practice Experience (APEx) program.

SUHI has also strengthened ties with local universities and researchers through the 2 nd year of SUHI Research Fellows program. This year, Dr. Talar Markossian (Loyola University) and Dr. Daniel Schober (DePaul University) are working with us on projects related to the Sinai Community Health Survey 2.0, the Unequal Cities mortality study, and existing community-based interventions. In addition, we have jointly launched the DePaul-SUHI Research Fellowship program this summer, through which four additional DePaul faculty members are working with SUHI researchers to study urban mortality inequities in diabetes, influenza/pneumonia, and stroke. 

These are just a few of the many ways we are collaborating with our academic partners. Stay tuned for an exciting announcement of a new expanded partnership soon!
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