Chicago's Saint Anthony nurtures connections with Chinatown

by Julie Minda
Jul 3, 2023


There is a growing population of Chinese immigrants on Chicago's south side, and many of them have been disconnected from the health system. Saint Anthony Hospital, a ministry facility that serves the south and west sides of Chicago, has been working to close that divide.

A Saint Anthony Hospital representative staffs a vaccination sign-up table at an establishment in Chicago's Chinatown. The hospital built up its presence in the community during the pandemic — and has continued increasing its work there since — to foster relationships and trust.

At a session that was part of CHA's virtual Catholic Health Assembly, Saint Anthony's Genessa Schultz-Brown and Xiao Jessica Fan explained that by being intentional about establishing a presence in Chicago's Chinatown, learning about community members' needs and developing programming to meet those needs, the hospital has built trust with many Chinese Americans there. This has helped to improve the immigrants' access to care. Schultz-Brown is the hospital's senior director of community development and Fan is community outreach manager.

Fan said Saint Anthony was the first hospital in the area to invest heavily in such programming, and many community members now "speak very highly of our work" and feel comfortable accessing services at Saint Anthony.

Unique challenge
According to the Chicago Chinatown Community Foundation, Chinatown was established in its current location in 1912 and has over 20,000 Chinese residents. That foundation says the area is a popular tourist destination with over 150 restaurants, gift shops and grocery stores.

Fan explained that Chicago's Chinatown is a rather insulated community. Many residents, especially senior adults, speak Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese, and almost no English. Many community members are unfamiliar with the U.S. health care system, added Fan. It is entirely different from that of their native China. Such community dynamics make it a "unique challenge" to reach Chinatown residents, said Fan. She noted that these residents are an underserved population, one central to Saint Anthony's mission to serve.

To improve access to this group, Saint Anthony's community development team has been replicating and expanding upon an approach it has used before with other immigrant groups. It has been partnering with civic organizations to build inroads into the Chinese-American community, learning about the population and their health and social service needs, and establishing a presence in Chinatown, such as at festivals and other public events.

Cultural competency
Saint Anthony has been using the knowledge it has gained to establish its programming around improving health care access. The hospital has hired care navigators and other community development team members who are fluent in the Chinese dialects spoken in Chinatown. Those staff members now proactively connect with community members and help them understand and navigate accessing services at Saint Anthony.

Fan said because of such efforts, Saint Anthony was able to tailor a COVID-19 vaccination program for Chinese-American Chicagoans that drew in numerous community members for inoculation.

Beginning with that vaccination effort, the community development team has helped Saint Anthony to increase its hiring of people of Chinese heritage.

The team also has ensured that health care information and signage at Saint Anthony is in Chinese as well as English.

The team also is conducting cultural competency training — it hosts brown bag lunches and will use this platform to share with staff information about Chinese culture, health care beliefs common among Chinese Americans and barriers to their health care access.

Service expansion
Fan provides free health care screenings and basic information about health care access and social services during her three-times-a-week visits to Chinatown.

Schultz-Brown said Saint Anthony is expanding access greatly — it plans to open a clinic in Chinatown next year that will offer culturally competent care, including rehabilitation, primary care and access to social service navigation.

She said in its efforts Saint Anthony is immersing itself in the Chinese-American community and this is inviting them in to receive the care and services they need.

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