D&I COVID-19 Recording: City of Chicago's Candace Moore & Advocate Aurora Health's Cristy Garcia-Thomas 6-23-20

In response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and its unprecedented impact to business and employers, i4cp holds a weekly series of standing calls to help Diversity & Inclusion leaders navigate this unpredictable time.  

This week, i4cp Chief Diversity Officer Board Chair and call leader Jacqui Robertson, along with i4cp VP of Membership Madeline Borkin, welcomed two featured guests to i4cp’s Diversity & Inclusion Action Call. 

Candace Moore, Chief Equity Officer for the City of Chicago, and Christy Garcia-Thomas, Chief External Affairs Officer for Advocate Aurora Health, shared insights into their organizations’ current efforts to respond effectively to what Robertson terms “the two pandemics – COVID-19 and 1619.” (The date marks the arrival of the first ship bearing enslaved Africans to the then pre-America English colony of Virginia.) 

Key Ideas Shared Today: 

  1. Emphasize the positives. Current events feel like and represent “a historic amount of shift in a short time,” says Moore. While there are questions about how to best respond and provide relief and support to the many (especially disproportionately) affected groups struggling with health and social issues at present, it is also an opportune time to re-examine where organizations have been and where they want to go in the future. In particular, it is a good time to focus on the operational strategies needed to build a more inclusive future.
  2. Chicago has mastered the “art” of the message. Rising to the challenge of getting important messages to communities of color and others disproportionately affected by the pandemic—and doing so in ways that empowered those communities—the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events took a creative approach to communication. The department engaged artists to turn messages into artworks that conveyed information while also reflecting the people and character of the targeted communities. Donated billboard space supported the effort, which Moore says demonstrated that “we can create beauty in this moment.” (Video: Artists Spreading the Message for COVID Safety)
  3. Community collaboration enables rapid response and gets things done. Strong data collection and analysis capabilities of the public health department provided the City of Chicago with important insights enabling staff to identify community health patterns that signaled COVID-19 related issues, including disparities in infection rates and access to care.
  4. City teams, under the leadership of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, came together to discuss what actions could be taken. The result was Racial Equity Rapid Response, a strategy for the City to join forces with community leaders—to listen, learn, and work out response plans together to drive the public health response more effectively in communities most in need of intervention.  

    The approach involved the mayor’s office, key community partners, healthcare providers, community leaders and other vital participants in a steering committee to share tools and ideas to be deployed in targeted communities where immediate help was needed. Moore says the effort enabled responses that were much more relevant, timely and impactful for the affected areas. COVID-19 testing sites, food solutions, targeted education campaigns, turning funding for volunteerism into jobs, and getting cash into communities are among the accomplishments over the past couple of months.

  5. Focus on what you can do. When the enormity of the health crisis and social unrest seems overwhelming, says Garcia-Thomas, keeping the focus on things one can control or influence can provide the foundation for positive response. At Advocate Aurora Health, that means a commitment to health equity that encompasses the organization’s patient population, its employees, and its community partners. The healthcare system is a part of Chicago’s Racial Equity Rapid Response Team. Garcia-Thomas underscores the idea that problems that can’t be solved alone can be effectively addressed when multiple stakeholders “join forces in strategic, meaningful ways.” The collective approach also expands the scope of what we can do.
  6. Community and business partnerships help bridge gaps. In Chicago, says Garcia-Thomas, the zip code in which an individual is born can mean a difference in life expectancy of as much as 30 years. Social determinants of well-being—such as education, economic status, and health—signal opportunities for organizations and individuals to collaborate. Advocate Aurora Health’s involvement has grown beyond healthcare to include investments to help alleviate shelter and food insecurities—basic needs that directly impact health.

  7. Partnerships with the private sector, in particular, can be effective in addressing social determinants as well. To illustrate, Garcia-Thomas says companies can help reduce racism by asking how it plays out within their organizations and then acting to identify and eliminate bias in hiring, career growth, and other areas. Providing equal opportunities for all people to learn, make mistakes, and grow is critical, she says—as is expanding employment opportunities for people of color. 

    Aligning around community collaboration can enlist the resources of the private sector to support positive change. The model can be replicated across geographies to sustain efforts to help populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic. 

Also on this week’s call: 

  • A review of recent i4cp pulse survey data (Organizational Action on Racial Equity) provided insights into racial equity action plans organizations are putting into practice both internally and externally. Donations and community partnerships emerged as top choices for external interventions.
  • Using the power and privilege of one’s position to problem solve was illustrated by Moore’s description of physicians’ extending outreach to vulnerable populations by taking the initiative to contact their at-risk patients about COVID-related health issues. The effort expanded outreach to approximately 75,000 vulnerable people.
  • Comments and questions from attendees explored such topics as:

In addition to this recording, please see these resources: