Below, Bishop Dr. Reginald Saffo discusses an Urban First Responders initiative he wants to expand into the West Side. | Photo courtesy Proviso Partners for Health

United States Sen. Dick Durbin is hoping a partnership with local hospitals will help reduce violence and improve the quality of life in some of Chicago’s most challenged communities. 

Durbin talked about his Chicago HEAL initiative during a visit to west suburban Maywood on Aug. 7. As part of the initiative, 10 hospitals across the city and suburbs — including Sinai Health System, Cook County Health and Hospitals System, Loyola University Medical Center, Northwestern Medicine and Rush University Medical Center — have each committed to achieving three major goals in 18 focus neighborhoods on the city’s West and South Sides. Austin, West Garfield Park and North Lawndale are among those focus areas. 

“People say to me, ‘What are we going to do about the gun violence in America?’ I mean it’s horrible,” said Durbin said. “The latest stories are heartbreaking stories.” 

The senator referenced two mass shootings that happened in less than a day and rocked the nation. 

On Aug. 3, a 21-year-old gunman walked into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas and killed 22 people and wounded 24 others in what law enforcement officials believe was a hate crime. Less than 24 hours later, on Aug. 4, 10 people were killed and 27 wounded during a shooting in Dayton, Ohio. 

“And then, of course, we know what happens in our own communities,” Durbin said, honing his focus. “In my hometown of East St. Louis, Maywood, Chicago — you name it. On the weekends, the guns start blazing.” 

The senator said that the most obvious solution to the problem — banning high-powered assault weapons and enacting other gun laws that would make owning guns much tougher — is “not likely,” given that Republicans control the U.S. Senate and the presidency.

 “I had reached a point of frustration. I’m thinking, ‘I’m elected to this office, I’m supposed to solve these problems, I’m supposed to make life better, what am I going to do?’ Well, then something happened,” Durbin said, before recalling the origins of his HEAL initiative. “I visited Rush Hospital.” 

Durbin said that he sat down with a physician and a former alderman who were proposing a program that would “look outside the hospital at the neighborhood we live in and we are going to try to make that neighborhood better.” 

According to a summary of the HEAL initiative released by Durbin’s office, efforts “to prevent and reduce gun violence must address the trauma and toxic stress in our communities and address socioeconomic determinants of health.” 

The summary identifies a series of “root, structural factors” that contribute to disparities in wellbeing between wealthy and poor residents — including economic disinvestment, segregation, institutional racism, poor education and high unemployment. 

The 10 Chicago area hospitals have each committed to increasing local hires, supporting community partnerships like affordable housing pilot programs, and prioritizing certain in-hospital clinical practices like implicit bias and cultural competency training. 

“For us, it is much more than being a hospital or one of the largest employers in the community,” Loyola Medicine President and CEO Shawn P. Vincent. “It is really about being an active partner in the community we serve. This is our backyard. This is our community.” 

Bishop Dr. Reginald Saffo, a prominent suburban pastor, said that his organization established the Urban First Responders Program in collaboration with Loyola and is hoping to extend its reach into the West Side. 

“The principal is to prepare the churches to interact with hospitals to provide that continuity of care beyond the doors of the hospital, so we have a training piece in place already,” Saffo said, adding that he’s looking to partner with other hospitals in the city, such as Loretto in Austin. 


HEAL’s primary categories*

1. Increase local workforce commitment to reduce economic hardship


Compared to current levels, target a 15 percent increase in hiring out of the 18 focus communities 

Compared to current levels, target a 20 percent increase in purchasing relevant supplies and services from local suppliers 

Develop career advancement and growth opportunities to foster local workforce retention 

Created more summer youth employment, workforce development and apprenticeship programs in health care fields 


Support community partnerships to improve health and safety of public environments 


Deliver trauma-informed, community-based counseling and peer support services across all focus neighborhoods, such as home visiting programs and case management 

Promote co-location of behavioral health services, including by partnering with federally qualified health centers and schools to open new clinics in focus neighborhoods 

Establish Safe Haven, Safe Passage routes, and gun-free zones around hospital-owned buildings and facilities 

Hold community health fairs and other summer and night-time events at city parks and community centers 


Prioritize key in-hospital clinical practices to address unmet needs  


Train all hospital intake staff and primary care practitioners in behavioral health and trauma screenings, and community with patients on firearm safety 

Establish trauma-informed post-injury counseling and community case management programs 

Compared to current levels, reduce opioid prescribing rates by 20 percent 

Compared to current levels, increase lead poisoning screening rates for Medicaid/CHIP-eligible children by 15 percent 

Develop common data sharing infrastructure and platforms across hospitals 

Participate in the Chicago Gun Violence Research Collaborative 

Participate in the Illinois Perinatal Quality Collaborative 


*Language pulled from summary provided by Durbin’s office. Read the full summary online at