On June 6, 2023, West Side United celebrated 5 years of building towards health equity and economic progress on Chicago’s west side with a 5th anniversary celebration, annual meeting, and the Chicago Health Equity Alignment Summit in partnership with C3EN, the University of Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine, and the Chicago Consortium for Community Engagement (C3), at Malcolm X College. Nearly 300 community leaders, researchers, and community members attended the event, which featured live jazz music and a rainbow of refreshments.

WSU executive director and C3EN community stakeholder advisory council member Ayesha Jaco reflected on WSU’s origins as six hospitals–Lurie Children’s Hospital, Rush, UI Health, Ascension, Sinai Chicago, and Cook County Health–united to address the 30-year life expectancy gap between Chicago’s Loop and West Side. Noting that the life expectancy for people on the west side had fallen during the pandemic, Jaco affirmed that WSU had nevertheless revised and expanded its mission from reducing the gap by 50% to eliminating the gap entirely. “What does it mean to tell my children, my neighbors, that we only wanted to get halfway there?” said one WSU member at an August 2022 data retreat.

C3EN Community Engagement Core co-director David Ansell, senior vice president of community health equity at Rush University Medical Center and author of The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills, said that addressing economic deprivation and structural racism was crucial to achieving this goal. He noted that listening tours of the west side showed that “no one wanted more health care” — people needed “supermarkets, small businesses, jobs, opportunities for their kids, safe places to walk.”

The meeting closed with a panel discussion, “Aligning health equity measurement in Chicago to reduce widening life expectancy gap” moderated by Jaco. Panelists were Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady, Medical Home Network Vice President of Client Services and Growth Misty Drake, American Medical Association Center for Health Equity Director of Evaluation and Learning Diana Lemos, and C3EN co-director and Rush University Department of Family and Preventive Medicine director of the section of community health Elizabeth Lynch. Changes in life expectancy over the pandemic reflect racial disparities in life expectancy generally, said Arwady, noting that life expectancy had dropped the most for the Latinx population (3 years), followed by Black and Asian populations (2 years), and the white population (1 year). Lynch urged community-based organizations to work with researchers to acquire and analyze data to address these disparities.

After the meeting, C3EN and West Side United joined community members for the Chicago Health Equity Alignment Summit, where researchers and community members discussed affordable and safe housing, behavioral and mental health, cancer screening and prevention, cardiometabolic disease, economic vitality, education, nutritious food access, perinatal health, public safety, and substance use in hour-long breakout sessions.

“This West Side United celebration really highlighted the amazing potential we have to collaborate across sectors and institutions to solve some of the most difficult public health problems of our city,” said C3EN co-director Elbert Huang. “I was amazed by the level of participation by academics, community organizations, and major health care leaders of the city of Chicago. Building upon these existing networks for public health research is the goal of C3EN.”