Eskenazi Health Announces Landmark Initiative to Address Health Inequity

Today, Eskenazi Health announces a commitment to generational change, working collaboratively throughout the neighborhoods of Indianapolis to advance health equity and improve life expectancy. The effort includes a campaign known as Beyond Barriers, a $60 million initiative to support Eskenazi Health’s longstanding commitment to addressing the social drivers that impact the health and well-being of residents in Marion County and across Central Indiana. The campaign will provide funding to expand existing programs and access to services while also establishing three initial health equity zones.

Since its inception as City Hospital more than 160 years ago, Eskenazi Health has focused resources to address social determinants of health in the community. With facilities deliberately placed in low-income neighborhoods and along IndyGo bus routes, these efforts have taken the form of free health coaching focused on nutrition and physical activity, clinic-based and drive-thru food pantries, investment in creating walkable communities, a violence-recidivism reduction program, a Medical-Legal Partnership, free resources for individuals battling cancer, support for new mothers, vaccination clinics, health fairs, and more.

“Everything we do at Eskenazi Health is in the interest of health equity. Making the opportunity of good health and access to care available to everyone in our community isn’t just a component of our mission, it is our mission,” said Lisa Harris, M.D., chief executive officer of Eskenazi Health. “We recognized, given the foundational importance of this work, that we needed to deepen our efforts and become more deliberate in tying it all together, working within and, most important, with our communities and the multiple organizations committed to various facets of this work, drawing on their resources and strengths.”

“When we put real resources towards public health, we can make real change, especially in underserved and low-income communities,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. “Eskenazi’s $60-million-dollar commitment puts their ethic front and center to create more access to healthy lifestyles in every ZIP code.”

Health equity zones are defined geographic areas where through shared vision and joint implementation of health goals, multiple organizations work to address long-term social determinants of health including racial equity and economic mobility to increase life expectancy for neighborhood residents.

“Donor generosity has helped bring Eskenazi Health and our community to where we are today. We invite our community to continue to move forward with us as we build the healthy neighborhoods everyone deserves, those in which each of us has the opportunity to experience our fullest and most vibrant life,” said Ernie Vargo, CFRE, president and chief executive officer of Eskenazi Health Foundation.

By 2025, health equity zones will be implemented at three Eskenazi Health Center sites located throughout Indianapolis: Eskenazi Health Center West 38th Street – International Marketplace, Eskenazi Health Center East 38th Street – Northeast Corridor and Eskenazi Health Center Grassy Creek – Far Eastside.

“Through an integrated and sustainable model, health equity zones will leverage the strengths of UNEC and Eskenazi Health to create life expectancy equity for Indianapolis residents. We are excited to begin working directly with our community members to improve their overall health and well-being,” said Ashley Gurvitz, chief executive officer at United Northeast Community Development Corporation.

“Health equity zones are bringing community organizations like CAFE and Eskenazi Health together with neighborhood residents to create health equity and break down systemic barriers affecting the community’s health and well-being,” said Kendra Nowell, chief executive officer at Community Alliance of the Far Eastside (CAFE).

“International Marketplace Coalition is expanding and incorporating the strengths of the community, Eskenazi Health, and our organization to overcome barriers affecting the overall health and well-being of our community’s residents through an integrated and sustainable model. We are excited to continue the work started by Eskenazi Health and to begin working directly with Northwest Indianapolis community members to meet their health needs and goals,” said Mary G. Clark, executive director, International Marketplace and Coalition and Global Village Welcome Center.

Individuals living in poverty are additionally burdened with many threats to health and well-being. Challenges such as disability, mental health, medical issues and substance use disorder impede education and job opportunities, limit child and adult brain development, contribute to violence, and reduce quality of life.

“Eskenazi Health will deliberately focus on a comprehensive intervention to aggressively move the needle on health disparities. The new hospital laid the foundation for equitable care, and this is the critical next step,” said Bart Peterson, former mayor of Indianapolis, current president and CEO of Christel House International, and Eskenazi Health Foundation board member.

“Everyone deserves great health and a long, happy life. It doesn’t matter where you work, where you live, your race, sex or religion; if you do it in Marion County, Eskenazi Health and Eskenazi Health Foundation are united in creating lasting health equity for all,” said Sharon Barner, vice president and chief administrative officer at Cummins and Eskenazi Health Foundation board member. “This current environment wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t be fixed that quickly either, but we are here to support tangible, fundamental change that will improve the quality of life for everyone, especially our most vulnerable residents.”

The goal is to leverage Eskenazi Health’s strengths and partnerships through a first-of-its-kind integrated and sustainable model to create life expectancy equity for everyone in Indianapolis.

“As stewards of the overall health of Indianapolis, we know it’s up to us to create and enact change. This work to address the social determinants of health, which impacts how long our residents are living, is now poised to move into a tangible execution stage that will create lasting improvements in health equity,” said Paul Babcock, president and chief executive officer of Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County.

In addition to establishing health equity zones with neighborhood leaders and residents to increase access to health care, mental health care and nutritious foods, the Beyond Barriers campaign will allow Eskenazi Health to leverage existing resources and partnerships to collaboratively improve life expectancy in Indianapolis.

“Many people in our community experience health disparities as a result of inequitable access to health care and human service resources,” said Virginia A. Caine, M.D., director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department. “We need to continually ask about the health equity challenges our clients face and how we are addressing these challenges as a department, a school of medicine, an organization, a public health system, and in the community at large. Everyone should have a fair and just opportunity to be healthy, and it is our responsibility to offer this.”

The early products of this commitment are already positively impacting the neighborhoods close to both the Eskenazi Health downtown campus and Eskenazi Health Center sites. In 2022, the opening of the Fresh for You Market, located in front of the Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital, has provided easy access for both patients and local residents to grocery needs, ensuring healthy and nutritious food is readily available and accessible for all.

“The Fresh for You Market is not only accessible, but it is affordable. I was given vouchers allowing me to purchase the food I needed. The affordability of the Fresh for You Market allows me to spend over the voucher limit at times when needed,” said Amanda Bowman, resident of Indianapolis and Eskenazi Health patient. “Additionally, the vouchers have helped me meet other basic needs such as paying for housing and utilities. The Fresh for You Market has helped ease many stressors I have and continue to face throughout my cancer treatment.”

Just as important as access to healthy food, is knowledge of how to work with that food in a long-term sustainable manner. This has been crucial to empowering residents to take control of their personal health and the health of their families.

“The partnership with Crooked Creek Food Pantry, Healthy Me and the Food as Medicine program are just a few examples of how Eskenazi Health, with support from all the divisions of the Health and Hospital Corporation, has been creating the foundation for what is now a unified effort of the entire city to make health equity attainable for all. Beyond Barriers will stand on this foundation and build upwards at a rapid pace,” said Robert Lazard, chair of the Board of Trustees of the Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County.

“The health of our entire city and all of Marion County is varied, all depending on what side of town you live on. Eskenazi Health wants that to change. Eskenazi Health has been a symbol of health equity for years and the work they have done, and will now be expanding on, will break down barriers to good health, because regardless of whether you live in the most affluent or most vulnerable areas, everyone deserves access to great health care,” said Vop Osili, president of the Indianapolis City-County Council.

As the Beyond Barriers initiative continues to expand over the years, additional health equity zones will be identified and tested, with proven strategies tailored to address the evolving needs of neighborhoods and communities across Marion County, with the goal of creating a balanced and equal health care landscape for all.

“This model is not intended to research or retest the known principles of the social determinants of health. This is about activating those principles to dramatically improve longevity and quality of life. This is unlike any other health equity zone project that exists,” said Christopher Callahan, M.D., chief research and development officer at Eskenazi Health. “For the first time, an anchor institution that possesses the infrastructure, capacity and individualized approach will lead. However, alone we are not enough. Partnerships, proper funding and philanthropy must be at the table for this comprehensive model to succeed.”

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