CHICAGO — The Hospital Engagement Action and Leadership Initiative was hatched three years ago when CEOs for 10 leading hospital systems in the Chicagoland area met with Illinois Senator Dick Durbin to contemplate real solutions in addressing city violence. 

When a boy gets shot on the streets of Chicago, the impact of that event, health experts say, is a shockwave with long-term repercussions.     

“One of the things with the HEAL initiative is to deal with trauma,” Durbin said Thursday.  

The state senator says no one understands trauma more than local doctors, nurses, and social workers.  

“You got to get out outside the walls of your hospitals into the neighborhood and guess where your neighborhoods are? They’re among the 18 highest crime areas in Chicago, Durbin said.

Top hospital CEOs say they recognize the urgent need for outreach. But with the pandemic putting a strain on hospital budgets, Durbin and other legislators saw the need for funding.   

“Treating children and families, both their physical well-being and mental and behavioral well-being, it’s so inspiring,” said Miles Square Health Center CEO Henry Taylor.  

On Thursday, Durbin talked with the health professionals at Lurie Children’s Hospital, who operate a mobile health van that has served more than 2,000 patients in 2021. Funded by federal violence prevention dollars secured by Durbin, part of the HEAL Initiative provides increased support for more than 4,000 victims in post-trauma recovery programs.

Chicago hospitals offer an 82% increase in trauma-informed counseling and support service programs with workforce development programs and apprenticeships providing a lifeline to 6,072 high school college students.  

Another aspect of the HEAL initiative is health clinics in the schools in Chicago’s most underserved communities.

Nurse practitioner Aquilla Shelby says the positive results are true-to-life. 

“This school year, we are proud to have served almost 900 individual students and children and adults and more than 3,000 visits,” Shelby said.

Drake Elementary scholar Calia Rule and her mother say they’ve seen the changes.

“The children are happier. They’re more eager for school,” said Ashley Rule. “We have less to worry about.”

Social safety net systems like Cook County Health benefit from Chicago HEAL. Another healthcare system is the University of Illinois Health’s Mile’s Square Health Center, which was given a million dollars to address some of the underlying problems that often lead to gun violence.