How does Systematic Racism influence Health Inequality within Chicago?




Chicago as a city still suffers from the effects of redlining—”Redlining is the practice of arbitrarily denying or limiting financial services to specific neighborhoods, generally because its residents are people of color or are poor.” (Encyclopedia of Chicago). Redlining evaluated each of the Chicago neighborhoods, believing that people of color moving north would destroy the North’s high grade rating. Because of this, project housing was placed on the Southside to keep people of color from living on the Northside alongside the affluent white population. Due to this, a lot of hospitals chose to build hospitals on the Northside of the city, where the profitability rates would be higher. Additionally, medical professionals live on the Northside as they are a part of the affluent population. I dove deep into the disparities of public health within Chicago to see how they are trying to remedy this major issue. 


Redlining Map
Current Map of Chicago Hospitals in Relation to Poverty


Redlining was instituted by the New Deal’s Home Owners’ Loan Cooperation (HOLC) which marked desirability of neighborhoods, with most of the desirable neighborhoods being home to the wealthy white population and the least desirable housed the poor people of color. These maps were used to determine the life expectancy of people residing in those neighborhoods, but were also used by banks and insurance companies. They used these maps to determine where they should be located based on racial biases. This practice was then copied by hospitals and other resource centers that surplus the Northside while the Southside is still subject to a lack of resources. Although the Citizen’s Action Program tried to combat the Southside racism in the 1970’s with a process called “greenlining” their efforts only made a small difference. The Southside is still suffering from the effects of redlining during the 1930’s 


Racial and Ethnic Composition of Chicago
The interior of South Shore Hospital: a prominent Southside Hospital
The interior of Lurie Children’s Hospital: One of many prominent Northside Hospitals


The COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 highlighted just how unequal the Chicago healthcare system, forcing Chicago and Illinois politicians to recognize the lack of progress that has been made. The hospitals on the Southside are characterized as “safety net hospitals” meaning they do not cater to long-term care but rather treat the patient best they can until they need the space for a new patient. However, the “ritzier” Northside hospitals took long-term care of their patients constantly treating and analyzing them until they were cured from the disease. Additionally, as shown in the map below, Southside minority patients have a higher death rate from the disease and a lack of resources to treat it with, whereas the Northside residents have access to high quality resources and face a lesser death rate. While the majority of patients at these safety net hospitals are on Medicaid, the government only reimburses these hospitals half of what it costs to treat these patients. Almost half of the Southside hospitals did not survive the pandemic due to an outdated and dangerous building, lack of resources, and lack of payment to their employees.  

Social Determinants 


Social Determinants

Above are examples of social determinants, which aid in determining quality of life and life expectancy. Below is a map of life expectancy by zip code of Chicago. You will notice that the life expectancy lowers as you head further south. 

Neighborhood Life Expectancy in Chicago

What Can Lawmakers Do?

Illinois lawmakers have the ability to remedy the situation, however almost all of these solutions require money. COVID-19 plunged Illinois further into the debt, with Illinois’ debt now being at 6.5 billion dollars. One particular solution requires the national Congress to increase the amount of money they will cover for Illinois’ Medicaid, with their current coverage being 51% of the total costs. This rate is one of the worst in the United States, however higher-up congressmen and women need to become involved. Illinois House Majority leader, Democrat Greg Harris, said that racial health inequality is at the top of Illinois’ current issues as COVID-19 made it clear just how much work needs to be done. Right now, lawmakers are working with the Southside community to make it easier for hospitals to merge, making the hospitals better with more resources. 

How Can You Help?

If you don’t live in Chicago or in surrounding areas, you can sign this petition to save one of the only hospitals left on the Southside of Chicago. If you live in the city or in surrounding areas, you can help volunteer alongside the Southside community to help make merging easier for Chicago hospitals. Additionally, raise awareness to family and friends and start exploring the beauty that is in the Southside of Chicago, as the community is currently trying to woo doctors to live down there. All of these solutions have long-term results, but the sooner we get started the sooner we will be able to change Chicago’s healthcare inequality. 



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  1. Hi Milana!

    As a fellow Chicagoan, I really appreciate your dedication to and interest in this topic. Thank you for educating me! It is easy to forget that you live in a bubble, especially on the Northside of Chicago. I live in the city and go to Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette (if you are familiar with it) and I see this difference daily. You did a great job shedding light on this inequality and providing effective solutions. I signed the petition – that was such a great thing to include and I am definitely familiar with Mercy Hospital. I particularly appreciated your photos of the interiors of hospitals on the North and South sides. Congratulations!

  2. Hi Milana!
    Great job! I really appreciated how you designed your project to educate me and others on redlining and then the effects in terms of medical resources. With the Covid-19 pandemic, this must have really impacted the Chicago south and north communities differently. You did a great job at explaining realistic and effective solutions. And I think all the infographics really brought your project to life! Congrats!

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