Battle Rages on for South Side Trauma Center

by Mary C. Piemonte 


Residents’ Journal’s video coverage of low-income Woodlawn youth and their advocates’, march and rally at University of Chicago Medical Center on April 21, 2011.

“U of C is Whack! Bring the Trauma Center back,” was the chant of protestors as they marched from 61st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue to the University of Chicago Medical Center at 58th Street and Maryland Avenue on April 21.

The protestors were stepping up their fight for “the human right to health care,” demanding action for a South Side trauma center. Members of “Fearless Leading by the Youth” also known as FLY, a division of Southside Together Organizing For Power (STOP), rallied outside the medical center, chanting “While the U of C ignores, we’re dying at their door.”

The youths and their advocates were upset because there is not a single level one adult trauma center on the South Side. FLY members said that the U of C Medical Center is the best positioned hospital to provide one. The U of C Medical Center closed their trauma center in 1988 “because it was losing them $1.5 million/year,” according to FLY. But members of the human rights advocacy group said they get close to $60 million/year in tax breaks and are building a new $700 million research building.

“We intend to make sure that the UCMC, as the most well-resourced hospital on the South Side, gives back to our community and fills the gap in trauma care,” they declared.

FLY’s battle to have the U of C’s Trauma Center reopened began immediately after Damian Turner, one of the group’s founding members, became a victim of gun violence in close proximity to the U of C Medical Center.

Turner, 18, was apparently the unintended victim of a drive-by shooting on August 14, 2010.

Turner, who lived in the 700 block of East 61st Street, was shot in the back and killed not far from his Grove Parc apartment in the Woodlawn community. After the shooting, Damian was taken 10 miles away to Northwestern Hospital, where he died.

FLY members said that Turner was “a victim of the system he was fighting against.”

“Damian was killed by the racist health care system that has left the South Side without any level 1 trauma centers because it is the greed of providers such as the U of C Medical Center – which was four blocks from where he was shot – rather than the need of people that determines where people get care,” FLY stated in their press release.

“There is no reason why you shouldn’t have a Trauma Center. You can build a $700 million dollar research center. Where do we fit in in that?” asked Turner’s sister, Candice Denard, during a Residents’ Journal interview before the march to the medical center.

“Can we get a trauma center to help our community? To most likely save lives as how my brother could have been saved? We’re fighting until the end, until we get a trauma center on the South Side because we deserve one,” Denard added.

Shelia Turner, the youth’s mother, said she hasn’t been able to eat or sleep since her son’s death. She added that she has lost about 80 pounds because of her depression.

“It’s been nine months,” she said. “We’re back in the same spot. Over at the same building, but guess what? No results,” Turner’s mother declared over the bullhorn during the protest.

“We’re not going to leave until we get a demand. We will not stop until we get answers,” she added.

University of Chicago Medical Center’s Explanation for the Lack of an Adult Trauma Center

On May 9, University of Chicago Medical Center spokesperson John Easton provided Residents’ Journal with a fact sheet titled “Trauma Centers, The South Side, and Resource Allocation.” The document states that “Trauma care is part of a much larger issue of unmet healthcare needs, shrinking resources and the necessity for a coordinated regional response on the South Side.”

It added that “although the Medical Center continues to serve as a pediatric trauma center, it does not currently have the resources to handle both pediatric and adult trauma centers, while still maintaining a long list of other badly needed specialty care services.

“A trauma center has specific and extensive requirements for facilities and staffing that the Medical Center does not possess, such as a dedicated trauma-only operating room in close proximity to the emergency room.”

Yet, they have the money to build a new hospital according to Easton.

“We’re building a new hospital. That’s what’s under construction now. It is the largest investment in health care on the South Side of Chicago in history,” he said during a brief phone interview.

Easton didn’t provide a direct answer to the question of whether the U of C will consider reopening their trauma center to service the people in the area. However, the fact sheet lists a number of obstacles to building a trauma center.

“To focus on the heavy demands of adult trauma care, the Medial Center would have to build services and teams from the ground up. This would take scarce resources away from other life-saving services critical to the community,” it added.

The fact sheet states that the recent closing of nearby Provident Hospital to ambulances “could bring many more ambulance runs to UCMC.”

Cost has been a major issue for health care providers. The fact sheet notes that “Sixty-one regional trauma centers closed from 1988 to 1991 for these reasons, along with high costs and poor reimbursement,” it added.

Since 2000, this situation has changed for the worse, according to the fact sheet, and only eight states now provide any significant trauma center support.

When asked what the new hospital facility currently under construction will be used for, Cheryl L. Reed, director of strategic communications at the University of Chicago Medical

Center, stated, “Why we are building a new hospital is not related” to the issue of the trauma center.

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