Oak Street Health tackling Chicago’s health equity problem

Like many major cities, Chicago has a health equity problem. Where you live directly impacts your health.

"Here in Chicago your zip code often determines your lifespan, which is quite scary," said Dr. Rene Roberts.

Streeterville and Englewood are separated by roughly 10 miles. That distance also represents the largest life expectancy gap in the entire country. A study by NYU Lagone shows people who live in Streeterville live 30 years longer than someone who calls Englewood home.

There’s a long list of why that gap exists. Lack of access to adequate healthcare and even if there’s access, often it’s hard to find a doctor who cares.

"It’s unfortunate that they exist," said Oak Street patient Miriam Acosta. "Those types of doctors that all they do is write prescriptions. That’s all they want is that money from Medicaid. They don’t have any personal rapport. They don’t have any type of relationship with the patient."

Building that ground level of trust is step No. 1 for Dr. Rene Roberts and the team at Oak Street Health.

"The doctor-patient relationship cannot exist if we’re not first building good trust," Roberts said. "I always tell my patients, I’m going to treat you as though you were my own family member. My own mother of father. I want to see the patient as a person first instead of a diagnosis or list of medications that they’re taking."

Most of the clinics at Oak Street Health are located in communities of color where the problems are often bigger than lack of access to adequate healthcare.

"A lot of our centers are located in areas where there’s a food desert," Roberts said. That makes it harder for patients to eat healthy if they don’t have access to that."

Tackling the issue of racial equity in healthcare is bigger than one clinic. Roberts said she understands why some communities don’t trust the healthcare system. But whether they go to Oak Street Health or somewhere else. If you don’t see a doctor, it's harder for them to help you.

The city of Chicago is also addressing this issue through it’s Health Chicago 2025 plan.