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Trauma center activists applaud new facility, seek more aid near U. of C.

Friday, September 11, 2015
Chicago Tribune
by Lolly Bowean

Activists applauded plans to build a $40 million adult trauma center for the South Side of Chicago on Friday, but said they want University of Chicago Medicine to stick to its promise to raise the age limit of patients at the campus' pediatric facility.

In addition, the organizers who have been pushing for an adult trauma unit for more than five years said they wanted to play an active role in the planning in order to make sure the facility serves the poor and most vulnerable residents.

The demands came a day after U. of C. Medicine announced an agreement with Sinai Health System to convert the emergency room at Holy Cross Hospital into a Level 1 trauma center that would serve some of the most violence plagued neighborhoods in the city, including Englewood, Washington Park and Greater Grand Crossing.

Building the adult trauma center is a major step that could save hundreds of lives, activists said as they celebrated the announcement. But the Trauma Care Coalition plans to continue pushing for a deeper investment by the university in the communities around the campus, said Veronica Morris-Moore, a youth organizer from Woodlawn.

"This moment came as a shock," said Morris-Moore as she stood surrounded by residents and other activists. "We always said we would fight this issue for as long as we could. No one thought today would be the day … that the university would concede its power."

In December, U. of C. Medicine announced it would raise the limit to 17 from 15 for its pediatric trauma center, but on Friday officials said this new proposal might supersede that effort. That proposal is still pending a decision by the state health department.

The announcement of the new facility came after years of public protests from activists and residents who said the wealthy university had a moral duty to serve the community around it. Residents and organizers targeted the university because it is bordered by neighborhoods marked by poverty and violence. As those residents struggled, the university boasted a billion-dollar endowment and announced plans to raise even more for its medical center.

But even though U. of C. has committed to opening a three-story trauma center at 68th Street and California Avenue in Marquette Park, activists said it's just not enough.

"This is a great accomplishment," said Corey Mason, a youth activist with Fearless Leading by the Youth, a grass-roots group that nurtures young African-Americans to participate in social movements. "But what about over here? There are still lives that need to be saved within this area — in Woodlawn."

The new trauma center will still be too far for residents in South Shore, East Woodlawn and Kenwood to access, critics said. They blasted U. of C. for making the announcement without acknowledging their push or allowing their input.

"This is a bittersweet moment," said Anna Nathanson, a University of Chicago student who represented an organization of students fighting for health equity. "This proposal also has some deeply disturbing racist elements that we have to continue to fight. Why would they chose to give their money to build a trauma center at another hospital, when they have this facility right here?

"Their motivations to sending their money to a different facility are to send the patients to a different facility," she said. "They refuse to treat young, black gunshot victims who live around them. They would rather send those people to a different hospital."

Conversations about the need for a trauma center serving the South Side have gone on for years, but the issue gained urgency after the 2010 shooting death of Damien Turner, an 18-year-old activist who had to be rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for care after he was shot. Turners' friends and family believe he would have survived if he had gotten treatment at the University of Chicago, which was just blocks from where the shooting occurred.

On Friday afternoon, Turner's mother, Sheila Rush, said after all the protests and sit-ins, the announcement of a health care facility was worth the struggle.

"This is a great victory for right now," she said. "We were hoping it could be closer, but it's still a victory. They found their hearts to listen to us, to listen to our struggle and what we are fighting for. My heart is overwhelmed. I'm just happy right now."

Rush said her son isn't the first to perish because he couldn't get medical care fast enough. And while residents in the surrounding neighborhood admire U. of C.'s health care facilities, they feel shut out from them.

"I go to this hospital. I love this hospital. I get all my treatment here," Rush said. "For them to not even to think and hear the community needs is appalling."

U. of C. Medicine and Sinai Health System officials said the decision to open the trauma center came after they saw a need and began discussing it just months ago. Typically trauma units that serve the most poor and vulnerable patients operate at a financial loss, but it's a hit the facilities are planning for, said Sinai Health System CEO Karen Teitelbaum.

"Nobody ever goes into trauma service to make money," she said. "Otherwise a lot more hospitals would want to be doing it. We believe so strongly that the city of Chicago and this area needs a trauma center that if it means that we're going to be reallocating resources to be able to do this, that's what we plan on doing."

The collaboration will help the two facilities share the financial risk, Teitelbaum said.

U. of C. Medical Center President Sharon O'Keefe said: "We have listened to the trauma protesters, and we actually share in the belief that there is a need for trauma services. The question all along has been how do you best approach adding the service to the community; we believe the partnership between two institutions ... is the absolute best approach.

"I don't think there is a victory on either side," O'Keefe said. "This is a victory for the community and the patients that we're going to be able to serve."

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