When COVID-19 swept across the city, it fell especially hard on Black communities on the South and West Sides. But those health inequalities were always there — the pandemic simply amplified them.
Now the city is attempting to address the lack of access to clinical care that has caused an abundance of chronic health conditions that made Black people particularly vulnerable to developing severe complications related to COVID-19.
On the West Side, the city has directed $7 million in CARES Act funding towards the Ogden Commons development, which was driven by local residents and organizations as part of the North Lawndale Quality of Life Plan. Ogden Commons will be built on mostly vacant land on the 2600-2700 blocks of West Ogden Avenue and include affordable housing, restaurants and retail space anchored by an ambulatory surgery center run by Sinai Health System.
The center would aim to increase health access by expanding outpatient care as well as wraparound services like childcare, access to nutritious foods, banking and transit options that make it easier to prioritize medical needs. The ambulatory and surgical center would be a one-stop-shop for community members to take care of all their health needs without having to be hospitalized.
According to the hospital’s COO Airica Steed, the focus on convenience and outpatient services makes clinical care much more accessible to patients. That also makes them much more likely to prioritize wellness and preventative care, which can reduce the prevalence of chronic illness.
“Our ultimate goal is to prevent unnecessary hospitalization, focus on prevention and wellness, and to afford access to convenient care and services right there and in the communities,” Steed said.
Responsive to the needs of community members who developed Ogden Commons in partnership, the ambulatory center will include a multi-specialty outpatient surgery center, a renal dialysis center and a program for digestive health. The center will also have a concierge nursing service to help patients navigate their healthcare journey. The concierge service will help with transportation, emotional support, financial counseling and nutrition guidance.
Ogden Commons is designed to incorporate affordable housing, public art, restaurants and retail space, which Steed said will help tackle the social determinants of health disparities.
“This entire project addresses the holistic person. Not just the healthcare needs, but the mental and psychological needs and the quality of life as a whole,” Steed said.
Access to clinical care alone does not explain the tremendous gap in health outcomes between Black communities on the West Side and more affluent white communities. Employment, quality education, access to food, walkability, greening and other factors play a big role in health, according to a study by the Department of Population Health at the NYU School of Medicine.
The study found life expectancy for residents living in parts of the West Side is a staggering 16 years shorter than those living in Streeterville. That “death gap” translated into poor health outcomes for West Side patients infected with COVID-19.
Across Chicago and Illinois, the mortality rate for COVID-19 patients is around 4.5 percent. But according to hospital data, the communities served by Sinai had mortality rates of 17 percent.
“This is simply unacceptable,” said Sinai’s President and CEO Karen Teitelbaum. “The heavier burden of illness in our communities of color must be addressed, and has been Sinai’s mission for a century.”
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.