Reginald “Hats” Adams planned to be a pool shark after he was expelled from high school. While he spent the next several years winning money with his pool stick, Hats ultimately devoted more than half a century to improving the health, well-being and education of Chicago youths like himself.
The director of the Department of Community Affairs at Rush University Medical Center since 1980, Hats died on Friday, after a lengthy illness, in his home in Country Club Hills with his wife by his side. He was 75 years old.
“Years ago, Rush grappled at times with how best to serve our community and most effectively relate to our many community stakeholders. Hats was invaluable in these efforts,” says Larry Goodman, MD, Rush’s CEO. “More than anyone I know, he has helped Rush focus on those things that are important and make a real difference.”
“My history with Hats went back 33 years, and I was his boss on paper for quite a few of those years, but it was Hats that guided me rather than the other way around,” adds Peter W. Butler, president of Rush.
Throughout his Rush career, which began in 1968, Hats paid particular attention to the educational concerns of minority students. Thanks to his efforts, in 1990 Rush launched its Science and Math Excellence (SAME) Network in response to the low science, math and reading test scores in Chicago schools in the area surrounding Rush.
Rush University Medical Center is well-known in our community, but our community engagement remains one of Rush’s best-known secrets. To recognize and celebrate this work, Rush is hosting our inaugural Community Health Improvement Week.
All members of the public are welcome to join us between May 4 and 7 for a series of panel discussions, poster presentations and a keynote and awards session. You can register to attend the events here.
While Rush cares for patients from throughout the Chicago area, and even throughout the world, the main communities we serve are our neighbors on Chicago’s West Side, where Rush chose to remain even after other hospitals left during social unrest in the 1960s. This community includes the East and West Garfield Park, North and South Lawndale, and West Side and Lower West Side and West Town neighborhoods.
These are neighborhoods that struggle with high rates of poverty, crime, and the disparities in health that accompany them. Working amid these neighborhoods ensures that we at Rush see these problems, and our community engagement has developed in response to them.
American hospitals and clinics, including Rush University Medical Center, are increasingly committed to equality for their LGBT patients and staff, according to a report based on a national survey released in July by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization.
A record total of 718 health care facilities nationwide (an increase of 153 percent in participation relative to the 2012 survey) have explicitly pledged themselves to equal treatment for LGBT patients. That number includes 121 of the nation’s 151 Veterans Health Administration medical centers, compared to just one VHA participant in the 2012 survey. That’s great progress!
We at Rush can be very proud of our organization’s record on the Healthcare Equality Index, the annual survey administered by the HRC Foundation. We have participated in this assessment of our policies and practices for the last five years, and have achieved a perfect score each of those years on the four foundational criteria for equitable LGBT care. This has led to our recognition as a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality” for the fifth year in a row; a distinction achieved by no more than four other health care facilities nationally. These key criteria include providing equitable treatment to LGBT patients and families, nondiscrimination policies for LGBT patients and employees, visitation policies granting same-sex partners and parents the same consideration and rights as different-sex partners and parents, and training in LGBT patient-centered care for key leaders as well as caregiver staff.
If you had asked me five years ago what I saw myself doing in 2012, I probably would have given you a variety of answers: playing cello for a symphony orchestra, teaching cello students privately, touring with a chamber group around the U.S. and the world. But I would never have imagined that I would end up working as a medical interpreter.
I was pursuing a career as a professional cellist, and on a typical fall afternoon in 2007, I was on my way to a rehearsal at a church in my neighborhood. I had just stepped inside the sacristy when I heard some commotion outside the door. An elderly Hispanic woman had just collapsed onto the steps, apparently as a result of a massive heart attack, and her husband was frantically pleading for help.
While the church staff called 911, I stood there debating what I should do. Should I just sit and wait for help to come, or should I try to do something myself? I didn’t know CPR, which is clearly what she needed; I was afraid to intervene in any way for fear that it would make things worse. At the same time, I couldn’t just stand there and do nothing. I suddenly realized that they might need help communicating with the paramedics when they came. That’s it, I thought, I’ll use my Spanish to help them understand each other! So I put my cello down and went outside to wait with the husband and his ailing wife, ready to do whatever I could once the ambulance got there.
When Michael Ryan started his own software company, he was thrilled. But the joy of building his own start-up was tempered by his deteriorating health. He was shocked when his local physician diagnosed him with cirrhosis of the liver caused by hepatitis C acquired through a tainted blood transfusion. As his liver disease progressed to a point where his local doctors could not do anything more for him, they recommended that he seek treatment at Rush University Medical Center.
Michael was in the advanced stages of liver failure when he came to Rush. His only chance for survival was a liver transplant. As his health continued to decline, he was unable to work. He was in and out of the hospital for consultations, tests and procedures, and he suffered from mental confusion and memory lapses that can occur in the late stages of liver failure.
After receiving a liver transplant in 2005, he bounced back. Yet he faced an ocean of professional and financial debt. “The business was basically running on its own, and that led to a disaster by the time I got out of the hospital,” says Michael. “I had to shut down the business. With that, the insurance company dropped me because I didn’t have employees anymore.”
When Reginald “Hats” Adams, director of community affairs, joined Rush 45 years ago, diversity wasn’t a common term, and making an effort to maintain a culture of inclusion where everyone has equal access to opportunities was not a performance goal for all employees, as it is today. Nonetheless, Adams strived to promote diversity through his work and in his life, not because it was required, but simply because he felt it was the right thing to do.
In the 1980s, Adams saw there was a disparity in the science and math education that children were receiving in some areas of Chicago, including West Side neighborhoods around Rush. Since science and math are the core tenets of careers in health care, kids with limited education and exposure to those subjects have less of an opportunity to choose a health care profession. Working with the leadership at Rush, Adams initiated the Science and Math Education (SAME) Network, which engages children in these subjects at a young age by providing schools with training and equipment to improve how they teach science and math.
“He wanted to fill a void in the education of young people and prepare them for careers in the areas of math, science, technology and health care,” says Paula Brown, manager of Equal Opportunity Programs at Rush.
In recognition of National AmeriCorps Week, AmeriCorps member Simone Blake explains her work with the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
I’m serving as a healthy nutrition and aging educator at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center through AmeriCorps’ Healthy Communities Corps. Its mission is to improve food quantity and quality in underserved communities across Chicago and Cook County.
The AmeriCorps program engages over 80,000 men and women in intensive service to tackle pressing problems each year, through thousands of nonprofits, schools, public agencies and community and faith-based groups across the country.
Everyone should have opportunities to reach positive health outcomes. Aging adults in our current fast food nation find themselves stranded. They need fiber and nutrient-dense foods when only high-calorie, low-nutrient foods are available.
The following is excerpted from Rush’s annual holiday greeting:
Within our busy environment, we strive to create a calming feeling for our patients and ourselves.
There are a number of new spaces within the Tower that offer opportunities for quiet reflection. They include the fourth floor quiet area and the Tower’s rooftop gardens, including the area shown here. In addition, a new space for spiritual reflection and quiet meditation will be opening next year on the Atrium fourth floor.
These areas are an important part of the healing environment we have created in the Medical Center, providing patients, family members and the people who work at Rush with places where they can calm themselves, make plans, and draw on their faith and their inner strength to meet the challenges ahead of them.
We wish you and your family a joyous holiday season and the very best for the New Year.
— Dr. and Mrs. Larry Goodman
Larry Goodman, MD, is CEO of Rush University Medical Center. Photo by Steve Gadomski, Rush Photo Group.