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Trauma center answers are not yet clear

Tuesday, June 08, 2010
SouthtownStar
by SouthtownStar editorial staff

We understand the outrage and the charges that we in the Southland are again forgotten, underserved and second class. The fact that the entire Southland is served by just one Level 1 trauma center seems absurd. The numerical designation means the highest level of emergency medical care at a hospital, one capable of responding to the most severe and serious wounds and injuries.

In a region filled with interstate highways and, sadly, plagued with too much street violence in some of its towns, the need for such a trauma center is real. In 2009, the region's one such center, Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, handled about 3,000 trauma cases - largely resulting from traffic crashes, shootings and stabbings from across the Southland.

Patients came as well from Northwest Indiana, from cities such as Hammond and Gary. With that state's closest Level 1 trauma center being in Indianapolis, our neighbors to the east are similarly devoid of top-flight trauma care.

This has left Christ Medical Center scrambling to provide the critical and expensive emergency services to at least two major population areas. While Christ officials have embraced the challenge and provided excellent care, the geographic difficulty of funneling Southland patients to Oak Lawn as they suffer life-threatening injuries is great cause for concern.

The problem, of course, is money. More particularly, a lack of it at any public level to bring expanded trauma care to the Southland.

The Cook County Health and Hospitals System recently did an analysis of the availability of trauma care in the Southland that proposes implementing a trauma center at an existing hospital, such as Ingalls Memorial in Harvey or South Suburban in Hazel Crest. But the high cost of such care makes that option unlikely. The analysis called for $81,000 to further look into the disparity of care, a proposal the county health system's chief executive, William Foley, is taking under advisement, a system spokesman said.

We're not sure precisely what this means, but if it seeks to prove that this lack of trauma care is tied to race or poverty, we know already that it does.

What we want is more clear facts on what the tradeoffs are and what proof we have that more money might fix it. A deep quantitative analysis that looks at outcome, what patients need what care and how fast - and how best to get them there - makes sense. But the argument that "we deserve one" won't find us the money, even if it's true. That's the case in most of Northwest Indiana, where poor and rich and white and black all get sent to Illinois.

We realize that a key component to the quality of life in the Southland is access to excellent medical care, including critical, life-saving care. That's why we need more data, more clear answers. This should not, must not, be a case of "build it and they will come."

With a new health care system brewing in America, there are too many unknowns when it comes to the costs, risks and rewards of hospital care. We salute those activists who keep this issue at the forefront, but we know the money pool is finite. We need more answers before we pluck more money from the wallets of the people of Cook County.



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