Vowing to improve the health of Chicagoans and cut the government's soaring health care costs, Mayor Rahm Emanuel went to a sweaty fitness room in Humboldt Park on Tuesday to unveil a comprehensive health agenda that includes a citywide "wellness plan."
As part of Emanuel's effort to launch initiatives in his first 100 days, the mayor and Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair presented a Healthy Chicago plan that outlines 12 priority areas — and dozens of measurable health goals the leaders hope to achieve by 2020.
The priorities include reduced tobacco use, obesity reduction and prevention, HIV prevention, adolescent health, cancer disparity reduction, better access to health care, healthy mothers and babies, communicable disease control and prevention, healthy homes, violence prevention, and public health infrastructure. Choucair says they have identified more than 120 strategies to address them.
The leaders did not specify concrete sources of funding for all the programs outlined in the agenda but said they believed their aggressive plan would attract more outside funding by demonstrating the city's commitment to targeted, transparent and evidenced-based health improvement strategies.
Along with the priority areas, Healthy Chicago presents at least 16 goals — addressing problems from adult smoking and teen pregnancy to racial health disparities in breast cancer and infant mortality — whose progress will be measurable through a "dashboard" of online charts that will be updated each August, according to Choucair.
"On top of that, on a monthly basis we will be issuing a report to update the mayor and the rest of Chicago about the progress toward advancing the policies, evidence-based interventions and health education messages aimed at achieving the goals," Choucair said in the Humboldt Park field house. "So it won't be like, 'We're announcing this today and see you in 2020.'"
"By having a clear mission with clear priorities and having a way to measure them and make sure we are not only setting goals but achieving them … we will have the greatest impact on our public health," said Emanuel, who said he works out daily and even shared with the audience his training regimen for an upcoming triathlon.
Another hallmark of the agenda, the leaders said, was its focus on specific communities hardest hit by various health problems.
Choucair noted that because Chicago's African-American women have lower breast cancer rates than their counterparts but higher breast cancer mortality, his department will target that community with more timely mammography and better access to cancer treatment.
And while the number of new HIV cases in Chicago is falling in most groups, the commissioner noted that they are rising in African-American men ages 18-24 who have sex with other men. "So we are allocating additional resources to target this demographic with prevention messages," he said.
The mayor also used the news conference to announce an upcoming wellness plan for all city workers that is aimed at, among other things, reducing the city's swelling health care costs.
"Around 6 to 7 or 8 percent — there's a varying degree — of the city's employees drive almost two-thirds of the health care costs around five chronic illnesses that are all manageable," Emanuel said. "There's a reason the private sector has embraced this whole hog, and there's a reason we're going to embrace it whole hog."
When asked if the plan would include penalizing city workers with poor health habits, Emanuel declined to answer, saying he favored the "carrot-and-stick approach, not just one approach. … You make the incentives clear enough so that people realize good health care is the right road to take."