By Larry Goodman, MD
The tragic killing of 17 people, including students, in Parkland, Florida, in February shocked and saddened all of us. Once again we were each forced to try to make sense of a senseless act, or try to distance ourselves from something that, unfortunately, is all too close.
Gun violence is a public health problem. It is also a Chicago problem. As a community of students, faculty, practitioners and employees, Rush is committed to finding answers to this and other public health problems that affect the quality of life and the health of everyone we serve.
As a health care organization, it is not enough to provide care to those who are injured and psychological support to those impacted by that injury. Similarly, as a university, it is not enough to train students only to respond to health issues in this limited way.
Addressing root causes
As we increasingly focus on prevention, we need to better understand and address the social determinants of health that are the root causes of gun violence, health care inequities and other similar public health challenges. To solve this kind of complex problem requires discussion, debate, immersion, partnerships and commitment.
It also requires action. While we can’t solve these problems alone, there is a lot we can do now. As a medical center, Rush is especially focused on improving the health of people who live in nine neighborhoods on the West Side. These neighborhoods include nearly 500,000 individuals with health care outcomes that are far worse than are seen in other parts of Chicago.
Gun violence is only a part of it. We know that health care inequities in these neighborhoods are related to the need to improve educational opportunities, create jobs and stimulate local businesses, improve neighborhood safety and infrastructure, and provide better access to quality health care services.
West Side United
To address these goals, Rush has brought together more than 100 organizations to form a collaborative, West Side United, that is committed to addressing each of these issues.
This week was Diversity and Inclusion Week at Rush University Medical Center, when we celebrate the immense value of diversity in our Rush community. It is with these same principles of diversity and inclusion that we form relationships with our West Side partners that can help bring about change. We provide better care for our patients when we get to know them as individuals; we are better as a team when we get to know each other as unique team members; we provide better care for the communities we serve when we immerse ourselves in these communities; and we are stronger in each of these areas when our teams and partnerships are diverse.
Later this month, the March for Our Lives and National School Walkout events will focus national attention on the critical issue of gun violence. Rush supports these and other efforts to positively affect policies, laws and underlying economic and social factors that can and should be corrected as part of a solution.
Rush is a place of open and respectful debate. We should all feel empowered to talk about issues and concerns, test our own ideas against those of others, and get involved. Big issues like gun violence and health care inequities can be solved, as long as we all agree that they must be.
Larry Goodman, MD, is CEO of Rush University Medical Center and the Rush system. This message was sent to all Rush system employees, faculty and students, and signed by the Rush system presidents and senior leadership.