Chicago Activists Push for Trauma Center on the South Side

Residents demand that one of the world's premier hospitals also help save the lives of its neighbors.

By Asraa Mustufa Jun 17, 2011

Chicago activists have been campaigning for the last several months for a trauma center to be established on the South Side of the city. In addition to rallies, marches, mock funerals, and "die-ins", advocacy groups have taken to social media in a push for officials to improve access to emergency care in the city, especially for communities plagued with violence.

The movement for a trauma center was sparked last August when a local youth advocate, Damian Turner, was hit by a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting just blocks away from the University of Chicago Medical Center, a premier research and teaching hospital. At 18, Turner was too old to be admitted to UCMC’s pediatric trauma center, and had to be taken about 10 miles north to the Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he died less than 90 minutes after being shot.

Residents say it’s a frequent scenario on the South Side, where there have been no adult trauma centers for two decades. UCMC closed it’s adult trauma center in 1988 after two years of operation due to high costs. But Turner’s death has led local advocacy groups to demand that the UCMC re-establish a level-one trauma center, so that South Side patients are more likely to receive treatment within the crucial first hour after a trauma related injury.

But trauma centers, which treat mostly victims of auto accidents, falls, and assaults, are big money losers for hospitals. "One of the reasons that trauma centers are so expensive is that they are required to treat patients who do not have health insurance. In the mostly African-American low-income sector in question, this translates into an ugly correspondence between race and money," Aliya Ram wrote in The Chicago Weekly. "The fight for a trauma center seems inextricably linked with a struggle for institutional racial equality."

There is also the issue of higher levels of violence in the South Side, which heightens the need for immediately accessible trauma center attention. Over 40 percent of all 15-29 year old trauma patients at Stroger Hospital, where South Side ER patients are often transported to, are victims of penetrating traumas like gunshots or stab wounds, which is several times above the national average.

While the distribution of trauma centers in Chicago satisfy state laws on the matter of access to emergency care, activists see no reason why a world renowned medical center that conducts cutting-edge specialized research has to turn away local patients from it’s emergency room a third of the time – the highest rate of bypass of any ER in the state. Fearless Leading of the Youth, a group Turner founded, continues their campaign, and released a "Trauma Center Track", sent in by reader Mariame Kaba, to illustrate their efforts.

"If they can put a heart into someone’s chest, if they can put a liver in someone, they can save someone who’s only a block away," Turner’s mother, Sheila Rush, said.

The fight for a trauma center on Chicago’s South Side has garnered national attention as well. Congressman Bobby Rush, whose son Huey Rich was shot two blocks away from a Chicago hospital in 1999, but had to be transported to a different hospital ten miles away where he later died, spoke about the need for increasing support for trauma care centers on the House floor.

"The fact that a community that is home to about 750,000 people on the greater South Side of Chicago…does not have one, not one, level one trauma care center literally results in the needless loss of life for far too many of us," Rep. Rush, who represents the 1st district in Chicago, said. "What I want to ensure, Madame Speaker, is that the same level of care that’s available in the affluent communities in this nation is also available to the men, the women, and the children in low income communities."