Durbin Introduces New Legislation To Support Hospital-Led Efforts Under Chicago HEAL Initiative

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today introduced new legislation to build upon the successful hospital-led efforts under the Chicago Hospital Engagement, Action, and Leadership (HEAL) Initiative.  The Healing Communities through Health Care Act would support efforts to reduce violence and improve health by enabling Medicaid funding to pay for supportive housing efforts, increase funding for federal grant programs that recruit low-income and minority health care providers, and establish a research network at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support trauma-informed care for victims of violence.

Launched in October 2018 by Durbin and 10 of the largest hospitals serving Chicago, the Chicago HEAL Initiative is a three-year project to make a measurable difference in the well-being of Chicago residents and specifically in 18 of Chicago’s neighborhoods with the highest rates of violence, poverty, and inequality.  Recognizing their roles as the leading employers, the hospitals have made 16 tangible commitments on actions—outside of their traditional health care roles—to uplift their communities, including through local hiring and procurement, job training and mentorship, housing, and mental health activities.

“Our efforts under the Chicago HEAL Initiative have already identified practical steps we can take to help reduce violence in Chicago,” said Durbin.  “This new legislation will focus on housing, trauma-informed care, and workforce development based on evidence we have found in Chicago communities.”

The Healing Communities through Health Care Act would do the following:

  • Create a demonstration project under the federal Medicaid program to provide funding, waive barriers, and test the potential health savings from providing supportive housing to eligible individuals through partnerships between health care and community housing agencies.  A recent program at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that less than 50 individuals accounted for more than 750 emergency room visits in a single year, but that health care costs and emergency room visits were reduced through an innovative housing program.
  • Establish a clinical trial research network at the NIH to study and evaluate hospital and community-based interventions for victims of violence to address trauma and prevent re-injury.  Studies show that approximately fifty percent of victims of violent injury will return to the hospital with a similar injury in five years.   
  • Support workforce development programs in health care careers by: lifting a federal funding cap under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act’s Incumbent Worker Training program; increasing funding for the Health Profession Opportunity Grants program to enable Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients to receive training in health care occupations; allowing loan forgiveness payments for health providers who serve in municipal jail; and increasing funding for recruitment of low-income and minority health care professionals through several Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant programs.

U.S. Representative Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL-04) is preparing similar legislation for upcoming introduction in the House of Representatives.

Earlier this month to mark the one year anniversary of the Chicago HEAL Initiative, Durbin, together with ten Chicago-area hospitals and the Illinois Health and Hospital Association (IHA), released a one-year interim report on the activities undertaken by the hospitals to improve health and reduce violence in underserved communities across Chicago.  Together, the 10 hospitals have nearly 15,000 employees from 18 of the most underserved neighborhoods, screen more than 75,000 patients for trauma and social determinants of health needs, and provide nearly 5,000 local students with career development programs. 

To highlight the one year anniversary of the Chicago HEAL Initiative, Durbin met with leaders from Cook County Health and Hospital System and University of Illinois Health, along with community housing, public health, and social services partner organizations, to discuss their work to support affordable housing pilot programs for individuals experiencing homelessness through the use of case management services and a flexible housing pool.

Durbin also met with leaders from Northwestern Medicine, Lurie’s Children Hospital, and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to discuss how the hospitals are collaborating with CPS to support career development and trauma-informed care for students.  And he met with leaders from Advocate Christ Medical Center to discuss Advocate’s Workforce Development Initiative, which provides training and education in health care professions for community members.

To support the hospitals in meeting their 16 commitments under the Chicago HEAL Initiative, Durbin has passed sweeping federal legislation to provide new funding to address childhood trauma.  Durbin also announced that the several of the fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills—currently under consideration before the Senate—include new funding and directive language to prioritize funding for communities such as Chicago for mental health, trauma-informed care, violence prevention, job training, and supportive housing programs.

The 10 hospitals initially involved in the Chicago HEAL Initiative are among the largest serving Chicago:

  • Advocate Christ Medical Center
  • AMITA Health’s Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center          
  • Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago 
  • Cook County Health and Hospital System
  • Loyola University Medical Center
  • Northwestern Memorial Hospital
  • Rush University Medical Center
  • Sinai Health System
  • University of Chicago Medical Center
  • University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences Systems

While these hospitals traditionally are competitors, under the Chicago HEAL Initiative, each of these 10 hospitals is committing publicly to work together, and with a broad range of community organizations, to do more to tackle the root causes of gun violence and health disparities.  HEAL is premised on the notion that truly reducing violence requires more than just world-class health care in the hospital setting to treat physical wounds—but a community-focused prevention strategy that recognizes hospitals as often the largest employers and leaders of neighborhood initiatives to address underlying root causes.