We start too many Monday mornings reading headlines that sound more like battlefield reports than local news stories.  All of us have been touched by the ripple effects of the bloodshed and shootings that occur on a near-daily basis in this great city.

There are so many important efforts underway, but more must be done.

OPINION

About nine months ago, on a Saturday morning in January, I invited CEOs from the largest hospitals serving Chicago to a breakfast meeting where I asked them three questions:

What are you doing now to make the neighborhoods surrounding your hospitals safer and to improve the health and economic opportunities for local residents?  What more can you do?  And how can I help?

It was clear that every hospital represented at that meeting was making some investments to prevent violence and improve health. But I challenged them to do more — to focus both inside and outside of their four walls and to recognize their economic footprint as the drivers of local communities. Some were doing great things in certain areas, but could we all agree on best practices?  A consensus effort?

It’s a complicated puzzle. Many services, across many neighborhoods, focus on many different parts of Chicago’s gun violence problem. How can we collaborate better?

That was the start of the Chicago HEAL (Hospital Engagement, Action, and Leadership) Initiative.

Chicago HEAL is a collaboration between major Chicago hospitals to reduce violence and improve residents’ health in 18 neighborhoods on the South and West Sides that face the lowest levels of high school graduation and highest rates of violence, poverty, unemployment. The hospitals are 10 of the largest serving the Chicago area: Advocate Christ Medical Center, AMITA Health’s Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center, Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Cook County Health and Hospital System, Loyola University Medical Center, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Rush University Medical Center, Sinai Health System, University of Chicago Medical Center, and University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences Systems.

While these 10 hospitals traditionally are competitors, under HEAL, each is committing publicly to work together, and with a broad range of community organizations, to do more to tackle the root causes of gun violence. Each hospital is making specific, quantifiable commitments to do more to make their neighborhoods safer, healthier, and more prosperous.

Over the next three years, Chicago HEAL Initiative hospitals commit to increase local hiring by 15 percent, increase their goods and services procurement from local businesses by 20 percent, and support workforce development initiatives through summer employment, apprenticeships, and job training.

These hospitals have also committed to increase access to services by opening new clinics, such as in schools; expand mental health programming in the community; conduct more research into gun violence and share data with each other to pinpoint solutions; increase lead screening for Medicaid-eligible children by 15 percent; and more.

To assist hospitals in fulfilling this plan, I will not only be a supportive partner, convener, and advocate. I am going to fight to protect federal funding for the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid, and to increase federal funding to improve mental health, affordable housing and job training. I want to make sure that the federal government is a help, not a hindrance, to this effort.

The staggering toll of gun violence in many Chicago neighborhoods is enough to break your heart. I have given a lot of thought to what I can do as a United States senator to heal the violence in Chicago — even with our current Congress and president. If we are serious about reducing this violence, we have to deal with the social determinants of health.

These hospitals make heroic efforts in the operating room and in the recovery room to try to save lives shattered by gun violence. They are ready and determined to play a bigger role in preventing violence and illness by addressing the root causes.

That is true leadership for which the City and all Chicagoans can be thankful.

I certainly am.

Dick Durbin is the senior U.S. senator from Illinois, first elected in 1996.

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