Collision Course: The Impact of Four Simultaneous Epidemics

Posted on September 22, 2020 View the blog

While the nation’s focus since March has been on the Coronavirus pandemic, Cook County and the nation have seen the country’s other epidemics grow. Opioid overdoses; gun violence; and suicide and serious mental health issues have increased significantly. Like the pandemic, their greatest impact is seen in communities of color.

The statistics tell the story:

  • As of mid-July, nearly 800 people had died of opioid overdoses, nearly two-thirds from communities of color. In 2019, there were 1,267 opioid related deaths. Cook County is on pace to have 30% more deaths than in 2019.
  • Gun violence has escalated during the pandemic. Cook County Health has seen a 20% increase in patients compared the same period in 2019. In Chicago, from January through July, there have 2,240 people shot and 440 have died from gun violence. That is a more than 50% increase.
  • Through July, there have been 58 suicides in the Black community. That is more than in all of 2019.
  • Nationally, incidence of mental illness and substance use have escalated. Stress, isolation, decrease in income and COVID-19 have combined to make day to day living difficult. Not surprisingly, the increase in mental health issues is more predominant in communities of color that were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Click below to learn more about the four epidemics occurring simultaneously.

In the face of this quadruple threat to our well-being, and significant unrest regarding systemic racism, how do we move forward?

Cook County Health has focused on serving for all who medical care, regardless of their ability to pay. Over 45% of CCH patients are uninsured, and the majority are from communities of color. Every year more than 300,000 patients come to CCH, and providers carry out more than a million patient visits.

Cook County Health recognizes, however, that medical care is not all of health care. Healthy food, safe and affordable housing, living wage income, good schools, all have a direct impact on a person’s ability to get and stay healthy. The system has invested in partnerships to bring healthy fruits and vegetables to our health centers via the Fresh Truck program, partnered with housing providers to increase affordable housing and build medical respite to transition homeless individuals from hospital to community. The workforce development program was developed to provide opportunities for people from communities of color to learn skills needed to enter healthcare field at all levels, focusing on engaging people from communities of color. Yet, this is just a drop in the bucket of what is needed. Providers across the nation are having a discussion of how to move our public and safety net health care systems work to address health equity.

Click here to read one New York City physician’s perspective.

As Cook County Health Foundation focuses on making progress on health equity in support of Cook County Health, we also know that the larger national discussion on equity and race must inform our work. We look forward to identifying strategies and opportunities to work with Cook County Health in building health equity locally.