The Center for Community Health Improvement and the Executive Committee on Community Health at Mass General recently sponsored an event where hospital and community leaders learned about an exciting initiative on the West Side of Chicago to reduce the 16-year mortality gap between white and black people.

Darlene Hightower, JD, associate vice president at Rush University Medical Center, Office of Community Engagement, told about 90 hospital leaders, trustees, donors, leaders from the City of Boston, and colleagues from other Boston teaching hospitals how health care providers, the city, and community organizations are working together to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to accomplish this ambitious goal. Because of their significant impact on health status, the plan has a focus on social determinants of health.

Mass General President Peter Slavin spoke about health disparities here in Boston and acknowledged unfortunate similarities with Chicago neighborhoods, saying, "An infant born in Dorchester is two to three times more likely to die before his or her first birthday than one born in Back Bay." 

Hightower began by posing the question, "Why does your zip code determine your health outcomes more so than your genetic code?" She then outlined West Side United's strategies including addressing neighborhood physical environments, economic vitality, education, as well as access to quality health care.

Many of the components of the West Side United plan are already in place here at Mass General--including our work with 1,000 young people each year, our efforts to develop an Anchor Institution strategy, our diversity and inclusion efforts, and all of our community outreach programs.

"If we are going to move the dial on eliminating vast disparities in health based on race, ethnicity, and economic status, then we must get involved outside the walls of our institution and join with partners in the broader community to address these conditions," said Mass General vice president for Community Health Joan Quinlan.

The group was inspired and excited about the presentation as an approach. We will keep you posted as we move forward over the next year to determine, with our partners, if this strategy works for Boston. Stay tuned!