Keeping Chicago’s families healthy

The University of Illinois at Chicago will launch a new effort to reduce the health disparities experienced by women and babies living in historically underserved and marginalized communities, thanks to a $4.7 million Healthy Start grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA.

The 2019 Healthy Start grant will allow UIC to focus on improving health outcomes in three Chicago neighborhoods (Illustration: UI Health/Hoss Fatemi)

Efforts will include leveraging community health workers, social workers and doulas in the Chicago neighborhoods of Auburn-Gresham, Englewood and South Shore to improve health outcomes for pregnant women participating in the program and their children. The program is also unique because it will offer services to women’s partners as well.

Leading the project is UIC’s Angela Ellison, senior director of the Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood Health Partnerships.

“Maternal health is an indicator of community health, and unfortunately, many of our communities are experiencing alarming disparities when it comes to the life expectancy of moms and babies, particularly in black communities,” said Ellison, who oversees the school-based health and wellness centers of UIC’s network of community-based clinics, called UI Health Mile Square Health Center.

Ellison says that maternal mortality is two to three times higher for black women when compared with white women, a phenomenon the New York Times Magazine recently called a “life-or-death crisis,” citing statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the University of Wisconsin and the Brookings Institute.

A report released last week from the CDC found that black and native women die of pregnancy-related causes at a rate about three times higher than those of white women.

“When you look at some of our communities in Chicago, the numbers get even scarier,” Ellison said.

With the funds, which will be provided over five years, Ellison and her team will work with women who are pregnant or whose children are younger than 18 months old, and their partners.

“We will provide case management-type support around health, education, employment and removal of barriers,” Ellison said. “Working with fathers and partners is also important as they are usually ignored in many programs of this type, yet have key roles in the development of healthy babies.”

Ellison says that because UI Health, UIC’s academic health enterprise, has clinics in Englewood and South Shore, the project can quickly link patients to accessible, high-quality health care services, although participants in the project will not be required to be UI Health patients.

UIC is one of five organizations in Illinois to receive Healthy Start funding in 2019, but the only organization with an academic medical center. It is also the only organization to place an emphasis on supporting fathers or partners, in addition to mothers.

Healthy Start was created in 1991 to strengthen foundations at community, state and national levels to help women, infants and families reach their fullest potential. In 2019, HRSA awarded over $100 million Healthy Start awards.

Working with Ellison on the project are UIC’s Brenikki Floyd, Dr. Nicole Gastala, Dr. Emily Hall and Arden Handler.

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