The conditions into which children are born and grow up have a major influence on their overall health.
For decades, the clinical and public health experts at Lurie Children's have worked beyond the walls of the hospital to improve the health of children and adolescents. Researching barriers to optimal child health and partnering with community and philanthropic partners to develop and implement interventions, the hospital's programs focus on under-resourced areas of Chicago and extend more broadly to children throughout the metro area and state.
Now, for the first time, these programs are coordinated under an initiative designed to maximize their collective impact, called Lurie Children's Healthy Communities. Healthy Communities builds on Lurie Children's experts' successful public health outreach and will address priority areas such as access to care, social determinants of health, violence-related injury and mortality, and mental health as identified in Lurie Children's 2017-19 Community Health Needs Assessment.
"A third of our patients come from under-resourced Chicago neighborhoods in which children lack access to opportunities," says Patrick M. Magoon, President and CEO of Lurie Children's. "The Healthy Communities team will help us strengthen our commitment to improving child health with a particular focus on these communities. This work aligns with our central mission: to help achieve healthier futures for every child."
Public health outreach programs that have grown from Lurie Children's include the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC); Strengthening Chicago's Youth (SCY), which recently launched the Juvenile Justice Collaborative to provide young offenders with an alternative to incarceration; and injury prevention work including window fall prevention and home safety education.
Through its Center for Childhood Resilience, Lurie Children's has worked with public school systems for years to provide access to mental health services for youth struggling with emotional issues, training more than 2,300 teachers and social workers in 2016 alone.
Particularly valuable in a year marked by unprecedented violence in Chicago is the Bounce Back program, which works with educators and school-based clinicians to identify children affected by trauma to help them heal and become more resilient.
"Hospitals are becoming anchor institutions, especially for communities with few resources," says Karen Sheehan, MD, MPH, recently named the Medical Director of Healthy Communities and head of the hospital's Injury Prevention and Research Center. "We have a real opportunity to improve the health of populations while reducing hospital admissions, costs and family stress."
Every three years, the hospital conducts a Community Health Needs Assessment, which serves as a starting point for the hospital to prioritize the community health needs that it will address in the years ahead.
"The first two priorities listed in the assessment are the social determinants of health and access to care," says Matthew Davis, MD, MAPP, the A Todd Davis, MD, Professor and Division Head of Academic General Pediatrics and Primary Care. "We must be able to address the root social causes of children's health problems, such as poverty and hunger, and ensure all children have access to quality care if we want to see real and lasting improvement in the health of Chicago's children and adolescents."
Dr. Davis also points to the need to tap the hospital's expertise to respond to community health needs as they arise, such as the You are Not Alone program. Funded by generous donors, the program provides mental health resources to clinicians, educators and professionals who are addressing anxiety and depression in marginalized youth and families, including immigrant and LGBTQ populations.
Through existing programs and increased responsiveness to the needs of the community, Lurie Children's aims to improve the health of children in Chicago by better aligning and integrating public health initiatives, policy, research and clinical care.
Much of the research supporting Lurie Children's work on community health comes out of the Mary Ann and J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research Program within the Stanley Manne Children's Research Institute at Lurie Children's, which was established in 2001 with a generous gift from Mrs. Smith in memory of her late husband.
The Smith Child Health Research Program conducts clinical, community and population-based research to identify factors that impact children's health. The program then partners with communities and policymakers to translate research findings into meaningful clinical and public health interventions and policy.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Heroes magazine.