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Health Care Wed Sep 10 2014

The Fight for a Trauma Center on the South Side

Activists sat outside of a construction site on University of Chicago's campus on May 19 to protest the continued calls for Chicago to get the presidential library for Barack Obama when the South Side was lacking something that seemed very essential: a trauma center.

Trauma centers are specially designed areas of hospitals to treat patients who need treatment for trauma, which includes gunshot and stabbing wounds and car accidents. University of Chicago has a pediatric trauma center at Comer Children's Hospital as well as a burn unit, but there is no adult trauma center on the South Side.

The three groups behind the week of protests calling for a trauma center were Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP Chicago), Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY) and Students for Healthcare Equity (SHE). SHE is a University of Chicago student organization founded in 2011 that supports the efforts to bring a trauma center to the campus.

SHE has been working with STOP Chicago and FLY, as well as public health officials, politicians and South Side hospital administrators to bring a trauma center to University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC), Joe Kaplan, a student organizer for SHE, said in an email.

SHE feels a trauma center is important for the South Side due to the violence in the area.

"Violence is a serious problem for many communities on the South Side and the young people who face this trauma every day are demanding a trauma center to treat their injuries," Kaplan said in an email.

Kaplan cited a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2013 examining "trauma deserts" in Chicago. The authors found that patients with gunshot wounds in Chicago faced an increased mortality rate based on how far they had to travel for care.

In a fact sheet from UCMC, the shortcomings of the study are noted, including that the study only looked at less than 1 percent of all trauma patients.

At one point there were two adult trauma centers on the South Side, one at University of Chicago and the other at Michael Reese Hospital. University of Chicago closed its trauma center in 1988.

"The Medical Center's decision to close its trauma center came after finding that the trauma center overwhelmed other surgical facilities and delayed life-saving procedures for other patients," the University of Chicago states in a fact sheet. "The decision as made to concentrate resources in the clinical specialties where the Medical Center can play the greatest role, such as operating a Level 1 trauma center for children, the only burn unit on the South Side, and a neonatal intensive care unit."

Michael Reese Hospital withdrew from the Chicago Trauma Network in 1989, and closed completely in 2008; demolition began in 2009. There are currently four adult trauma centers in Chicago: Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center and Northwestern Memorial Hospital on the North Side and Mount Sinai Hospital and John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County on the West Side.

"The distribution of trauma care in the city does not line up with where trauma actually occurs," Kaplan said. "We think this distribution of resources is unjust, is costing people lives, and strive to change that."

The Medical Center argues they have focused their attention on tackling other health disparities on the South Side, such as diabetes, obesity, breast cancer, HIV infection rates and lack to primary care.

Kaplan acknowledged in an email the current initiatives done by UCMC are "very important and we recognize that UChicago Medicine does a lot of work on the Southside."

Among the initiatives done by UCMC is the Urban Health Initiative, which is its plan to improve access and quality of community-based health care in the South Side. UHI helps connect those who come to UCMC's emergency department for primary care with primary care doctors. According to Tiffani Washington, senior media relations specialist for UCMC, appointments are made for the patients when they come to the emergency department and follow-up calls are made to ensure the patients are getting the care.

More than 2,800 have been connected primary care doctors through UHI, Washington said.

Another initiative led by UCMC and its doctors is Improving Diabetes Care and Outcomes on the South Side of Chicago. The program, led by Dr. Monica Peek, works with six clinics on the South Side and patients who have Diabetes to help reduce disparities in that area of Chicago. The program has classes for patients to learn how to live healthier lives and manage their diabetes.

Although that program, among other initiatives spearheaded by UCMC, does tackle health issues important to those who live on the South Side, the lack of a trauma center is an issue due to the continuing crime occurring in the surrounding neighborhoods.

UCMC is also not the only hospital on the South Side, but it's drawing attention due to its resources and funding.

"The University of Chicago and its affiliated medical center have financial resources and a political voice that far exceeds all other South Side hospitals," Kaplan said. "Because their campus is surrounded by communities that desperately need this care, we think it is wrong for them to absolve themselves of any responsibility."

"Their ability to raise funds, their position as the most resource-rich institution on the South Side, and their status as tax exempt non-profit hospital all point to their obligation to play a substantial role in bringing trauma care to the South Side," Kaplan said.

All of the hospitals on the South Side are listed as non-profit hospitals according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. [PDF] The South Side is also home to Provident Hospital of Cook County, which is operated by the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.

Whether a trauma center will eventually come to the South Side, either at UCMC or another hospital, only time will tell. Since states currently lack the power to mandate trauma centers in urban areas, efforts to bring a trauma center to the South Side will continue, and organizations like SHE will continue to agitate in an attempt to encourage hospital administrators to bring what is viewed as vital resource to the South Side.

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