Violent crime is ‘biggest health problem’ for Southerners surveyed, UChicago study finds

HYDE PARK — Southerners surveyed in a recent University of Chicago medical study named serious crime their top health concern, while expressing the need for preventive care against cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Residents of the 28 community areas served by UChicago Medicine’s Hyde Park campus also face “strikingly high” rates of chronic disease and a lack of access to mental health professionals, according to the health provider’s biennial Community Health Needs Assessment services.

The results of the study, which used health, demographic and crime data along with interviews and surveys conducted since 2021, were announced Wednesday.

The report also found:

  • UChicago Medicine’s South Side service area has higher death rates from heart disease, cancer, coronary heart disease, accidents, homicide, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes than the entire city .
  • More than 8,500 residents in the service area have to travel more than 1 mile each way to get to a supermarket.
  • Homicide is the second leading cause of death citywide for people ages 1-44.

The study’s findings “confirm the health care disparities we are working to address through renewed investments in cancer care, violence prevention and access to primary care, to name a few,” said Dr. Kenneth Polonsky, executive vice president of medical UChicago questions.

Residents’ concerns about violent crime will prompt UChicago Medicine staff to continue their work around violence prevention and trauma resilience, officials said. Existing initiatives include the Violence Recovery Program, Healing Hurt People–Chicago, and the Southland RISE Trauma Recovery Program.

Southland RISE will announce $150,000 in funding this month that will be given to support grassroots programs designed to keep youth safe during the summer, officials said.

Last fall, Governor JB Pritzker designated gun violence as a public health emergency.

credit: UChicago Medicine
A cancer patient receives an infusion at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Cancer also poses a serious threat to Southerners, as they are twice as likely to die from cancer as residents living “almost anywhere else in the country,” according to the report.

South Side residents are also more likely to experience an initial diagnosis of stage 4 or metastatic cancer than residents in other areas of the city. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in society.

UChicago Medicine plans to build a $633 million cancer center on its Hyde Park campus, which would “significantly expand our capacity and resources for cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment and research,” Polonsky said.

The health care provider is seeking approval this fall from the state’s Health Facilities and Services Review Board to build the center, which will be the first of its kind in Chicago.

University leaders will host a virtual panel discussion about its cancer center at 5:30 p.m. on July 27. To register, click here. Residents can also complete a community survey about the project, available in English and Spanish.

“Work is underway to incorporate the voice of patients and community members into the design of the facility as we strive to build a best-in-class, human-centered experience for our cancer center of the future,” said Tom Jackiewicz, president of The University of Chicago Medical Center.

The cancer center will work “side by side” with the new South Side Healthy Community Organization to detect and treat cancer, Dr. Kunle Odunsi, director of the university’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in February.

The community organization is a group of 13 health care providers working to improve South Siders’ access to quality care close to home. It will launch in July.

The Community Health Needs Assessment included a survey of 975 of the more than 626,000 residents in the South Side service area.

Survey respondents overwhelmingly identified as cisgender women, at 82 percent. About 16 percent identified as cisgender men; less than 1 percent identified as gender queer, gender nonconforming, or “other”; and no transgender participants were reported.

Although the median income of the service area was slightly more than $40,000 per year, about 74 percent of respondents made more than $40,000 per year, and about 30 percent made more than $100,000 per year.

UChicago Medicine is using the report to “guide the hospital where to allocate resources, officials said.

Health officials also released a plan this week to address the community’s health priorities in fiscal year 2025.

The plan names two priorities for the coming years: reducing the impact of chronic disease and building trauma resilience through trauma-informed health care and increased access to mental health services.

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