New diversity effort for UI Health

UI Health Hospital Sign_Day shot.
The University of Illinois Hospital. (Photo: Hoss Fatemi/UI Health).

The University of Illinois Chicago’s academic and clinical health system, UI Health, has been selected as the first health system in Chicago to receive funding from Blue Cross Blue Shield Illinois, or BCBSIL, as part of a new pilot program aimed at improving health equity.

Over three years, UI Health will receive funding from BCBSIL to expand its efforts to improve diversity among health care providers and to reduce the health disparities experienced by patients who are members of communities of color and other communities that disproportionately experience poor health outcomes.

“UI Health has a long history of serving vulnerable communities and we have a strong focus on improving health equity. That’s why we welcome the opportunity to reduce the disparities experienced by communities of color and other underserved communities in Chicago,” said Dr. Heather Prendergast, UIC professor of emergency medicine and associate dean for clinical affairs at the College of Medicine. “We are proud to be selected for this pilot program and are grateful for the resources and incentives it will provide as we continually seek to improve care and outcomes among the communities we serve.”

The funding will be used both to expand current programs and launch new initiatives. For example, Prendergast says that a key focus of the hospital’s efforts to improve outcomes will be to use this funding to invest in data collection, analytics and informatics systems that will better track outcomes stratified by race or ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Another example is for the system to redouble efforts to further invest in the hospital’s pipeline of care providers from diverse backgrounds and to deliver antibias and antiracism training to its clinical staff.

“The opportunity to partner with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois on this program comes at a perfect time as UI Health is actively working to develop antibias and antiracism programs to ensure that implicit bias is minimized across the board and particularly in patient care settings,” said Dr. Gloria Elam, UIC associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology and associate dean for diversity and inclusion at the College of Medicine.

“It’s well documented that patients often do better when they can say ‘my care team looks like me and speaks like me,’ or when care providers are trained in implicit bias,” Elam said. “Our College of Medicine is already among one of the leading schools for graduating Black and Latinx students, but we’ve identified a need for additional programs that not only increase the number of students and graduates from these communities, but also the number of residents — from our academic program and others — who choose to train in our hospital and health care providers who choose to work for us.”

About 34% of students currently enrolled in UIC’s medical school are from historically underrepresented communities — 16% identify as Black, 16% identify as Latinx and about 2% as Native American.

As a participant in the program, UI Health will be subject to certain quality indicators, such as performance on selected CMS inpatient and outpatient measures; performance managing maternal hypertension and maternal hemorrhage; and telehealth utilization and patient satisfaction with telehealth services stratified by race/ethnicity, gender and other factors.

Prendergast says the quality indicators are already top of mind for the hospital.

“We fully embrace the accountability that comes along with this funding —again, it’s about what is best for our patients, and really, for our entire community and the entire health care system,” Prendergast said.

“While I am proud of the work that UI Health has done to improve health outcomes for all communities and to prioritize inclusive hiring among our faculty and health care providers, we can always do better and this pilot program will help us expand our efforts and potentially create lasting and sustainable improvements that benefit everyone,” Elam said.

Watch Prendergast’s 3-minute talk on this work, delivered at SparkTalks, UIC’s take on faculty lightning talks.

In a news release, BCBSIL said it specifically wanted to support and incentivize hospitals serving the highest concentrations of BCBSIL members in Illinois communities who are most at risk of contracting COVID-19 and who face health inequities and disparities. 

“Even before COVID-19, we knew that to change the way health care is delivered to minority communities, we needed to team with and support our providers,” said Salma Khaleq, vice president of provider strategy and partnerships at BCBSIL. “By increasing provider capacity and capabilities to deliver care that is more equitable and combats the social determinants of health, we are aiming to make demonstrable progress, which is long overdue. What you look like and where you live shouldn’t be a factor in your health.”

More information about UI Health is available online.

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