Reaffirming UChicago Medicine values in the face of racial inequities

A physician with their patient.

The recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police have filled us with horror and dismay. These acts reflect the deep-seated and systemic racism that are present in our society and are pervasive in all aspects of American life including education, healthcare and law enforcement.

These actions are the antithesis of what we stand for as an institution. With our focus on research, education and healthcare, the Biological Sciences Division (BSD) and the University of Chicago Medicine must continue to ensure that equity, diversity, fairness and inclusion are at the heart of everything we do and must be upheld in all aspects of our work.

As Dean of the BSD and President of the University of Chicago Medical Center, we believe it is important for us to state unequivocally that we do not tolerate racism. We must work together to reaffirm the value of each person across our university and medical center community and to ensure that through our work, our teaching and learning, our research, and our care for patients and our community, we treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Across the BSD and UChicago Medicine, including through our Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Urban Health Initiative and other groups on campus – along with the incredible organizations across the South Side of Chicago – we have worked together in concrete ways to continue to advance these values, whether it’s through our commitment to expanding trauma care, our ongoing efforts to recruit and train a diverse group of students, our research that illuminates inequity in health outcomes and explores solutions to these problems, or our community benefit investment.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to offer the highest quality care for patients and strive to promote equity and support our community:

  • COVID-19 testing: We increased access to testing for community members through curbside screening sites in Hyde Park, Harvey, Orland Park, Flossmoor and Calumet City. Combining our curbside clinics with testing that takes place inside our hospitals, we have conducted more than 37,000 COVID-19 tests. We have also partnered with South Side community hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) to expand the COVID-19 testing network to those who live in communities of color where residents face a disproportionate burden from the pandemic.
  • Pharmacy: Our pharmacy continues to respond to an unprecedented demand for services due to the closure of a number of Walgreens, Jewel-Osco, and CVS locations affected by recent civil unrest. In just four days this week, we filled 4,449 prescriptions, or 1,112 per day – up more than 38% over typical prescription processing – to ensure community members can continue to obtain the medications they need.
  • Contact tracing: UChicago Medicine is planning a contact tracing program with a focus on our patients and those of FQHCs on the South Side who have tested positive for COVID-19. Our efforts are in recognition of COVID-19’s severe and disproportionate impact on the South Side community, which is nearly 77% African American and 12% Hispanic. Urban Health Initiative Vice President Brenda Battle, who serves on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Racial Equity Rapid Response Team, is a leader in this effort.
  • PPE donations: We have directed donations to 40 local organizations, providing more than 25,000 gloves, 1,500 masks and hundreds of gowns and coveralls, along with cleaning products and eye protection, to community partners.

We are committed to leading the entire BSD and UChicago Medicine community in working together with our community partners to support one another, reaffirm our core values and help make a meaningful difference in the communities we serve.

Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD

Dean and Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs
The University of Chicago

Sharon O’Keefe

President, February 2011–July 2020
The University of Chicago Medical Center