$8 million gift from AbbVie to help reduce healthcare disparities

Woman assisting boy with Asthma
Woman assisting boy with Asthma

The University of Chicago Medicine has received an $8 million donation from AbbVie, as part of the research-based global biopharmaceutical company’s broader $50 million, five-year investment in philanthropic partners to support underserved Black communities across the United States.

AbbVie’s commitment will support UChicago Medicine’s Urban Health Initiative by expanding its local team of community health workers—trusted ambassadors who can help direct community members to essential resources—and enabling more holistic, comprehensive healthcare for residents on Chicago’s South Side. The gift also will build the capacity of community partner organizations through annual grants of $250,000. With this donation, AbbVie and UChicago Medicine can help play an important role in integrating the strengths and assets that exist on Chicago’s South Side to promote health equity and justice.

As the South Side’s only academic medical center, UChicago Medicine is committed to caring for residents of one of the most under-resourced communities in the nation. The 800,000 residents living on Chicago’s South Side, the majority of whom are Black and historically underserved, face significantly higher rates of chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as economic challenges, community violence and trauma.

“Chicago’s South Side is home to vibrant, diverse and resilient communities, but generations of structural inequity have resulted in significant health disparities,” said Karen Hale, vice president and deputy general counsel, AbbVie. “University of Chicago Medicine’s Urban Health Initiative will significantly scale up a local team of community health workers to help thousands of Chicagoans navigate systems of care and empower these communities.”

Whether addressing a chronic condition, preventing violence, or helping a community overcome a disaster, community health workers can play a critical role in helping individuals navigate the steps to recovery.

“The residents of Chicago’s South Side communities experience disproportionately high rates of chronic health conditions, violence, and unemployment,” said Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD, dean and executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Chicago. “The generous support of the AbbVie Foundation will allow us to strengthen and expand some of our organization’s community-based programs that are vital resources to facilitate access to care, address health disparities, and improve the health of people living in our surrounding neighborhoods.”

AbbVie’s gift will establish the Liaisons in Care (LinC) program, the cadre of community health workers dedicated to promoting health equity through increased access to care and resources. The LinC program enhances the work of the Urban Health Initiative, which has become a valuable force in reducing healthcare disparities for those who live on the South Side through the establishment of strong relationships with community and faith-based organizations, civic leaders, healthcare providers, and residents — coupled with evidence-based strategies.

“AbbVie’s donation will allow for the hiring of 14 additional community health workers, increasing our capacity to holistically serve and meet the needs of greater numbers of South Side residents,” said Brenda Battle, UChicago Medicine’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer and vice president of the Urban Health Initiative. “Support from AbbVie will also allow for increased investments in partner organizations in the community. The annual grants of $250,000 will help community-based organizations to flexibly build their capacity to serve more residents, while also providing additional employment opportunities in the community.”

Robust data collection and program evaluation are also critical components of this effort. To that end, AbbVie’s gift will expand the Urban Health Initiative’s team of epidemiologists to develop sophisticated approaches to assess the program’s impact and inform continuous improvement, with the goal of seeing measurable improvements in access to care and quality of life, along with reductions in emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

Originally published on The Forefront, December 2020

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