Upset that there is no trauma center that serves adults on the South Side, demonstrators are pressing again this week for the University of Chicago to reopen the unit it closed in 1988. The protesters, some of them clergy members, say it's incongruous for the university to seek President Barack Obama's library without offering trauma care to those living near its Hyde Park campus.
"We're suggesting that if they want to have the first black president's national library and museum, they need to do a little more for the black people who are right next door to them," said Veronica Morris-Moore, 21, a South Shore resident who has been active in the campaign for a trauma center. "Our suggestion is that Barack Obama places his library with someone who cares about the black community."
Most nights on the South Side, someone is shot. The bullets pierce men and women, girls and boys, innocent bystanders and hardened gangsters. For adults, the ambulance ride to a trauma center can cross the city and cost precious time.
Chicago has four Level I trauma centers for adults, according to the Illinois Hospital Association, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital on the Near North Side, Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center on the North Side, Mount Sinai Hospital on the West Side and John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County on the Near West Side.
Suburban Level I trauma centers at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge and Presence St. Francis Hospital and NorthShore University Evanston Hospital in Evanston are also in Cook County.
But some South Side residents would have to travel more than 10 miles by ambulance to reach a trauma center.
A 2013 Northwestern University study used data from Chicago shootings to show that gunshot patients more than five miles from a trauma center have a lower chance of survival.
Level I trauma centers are designed to treat severely injured patients and have resources beyond those of a standard emergency room. The facilities have general surgeons available at all times and provide prompt access to specialized care.
University of Chicago officials say they're committed to engaging with the South Side and providing medical care to its residents, but they believe it's unfair to expect the university alone to shoulder the costly burden of a trauma center. They've indicated a willingness to be part of a "regional effort" for offering trauma care, but no such solution has materialized.
U. of C. officials note that their hospitals continue to offer a trauma center for children up to age 16, as well as a neonatal intensive care and the only burn unit on the South Side. Opening a trauma center for adults, they said in a statement Monday, "would compromise the medical center's ability to support these critical services." The university declined to make hospital executives available for interviews.
Demonstrators have long pressed the university to reopen its trauma unit, but tying that desire to the Obama presidential library is a relatively new talking point.
The University of Chicago, where the president once taught, is considered a leading candidate to house the library. The facility is a potential boon for tourism and research and is being courted by a number of sites in the city, as well as others in New York and Hawaii.
The Rev. Alice Harper-Jones, whose church is near both the university's campus and the president's Kenwood neighborhood house, believes strongly that Obama's library should be built on Chicago's South Side. But asked whether the U. of C. would be an appropriate host, Harper-Jones said "absolutely not."
"If they open a trauma center, then they're showing they care about the needs of the community," said Harper-Jones, an associate pastor at Kenwood United Church of Christ. "At this point, they haven't shown that they're really concerned about the needs of the community."
Harper-Jones said she was facilitating a prayer vigil for Tuesday evening, one of several efforts this week to draw attention to the trauma center issue and attempt to persuade U. of C. to change course. On Wednesday, the union that represents nurses at University of Chicago Medical Center is planning a bus tour of what it calls the South Side's "trauma desert."
Morris-Moore was among a handful of protesters forcibly removed from a campus construction site by University of Chicago police on Monday. In a statement, university officials said they removed the demonstrators out of safety concerns, but that no arrests were made.
In January 2013, police arrested four protesters seeking a trauma center who refused to leave a hospital building. University officers took out their batons and shoved demonstrators out the door of the hospital, the Tribune reported at the time.
The organized effort to get a trauma center at the U. of C. started in earnest after youth activist Damian Turner was struck and killed by a stray bullet in 2010.
Turner was just blocks away from the University of Chicago when he was hit but had to be taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital on the Near North Side. He died of his injuries.
Morris-Moore said she met Turner shortly before his death. After the shooting, she said she was moved to advocate for a trauma center on the South Side. She believes the U. of C., which has a $782-million endowment for its medical center, should reopen its unit.
"We constantly see the university attaching themselves to projects that come with a lot of prestige and a lot of honor, but trauma care is something that's very basic," Morris-Moore said. "My fear is they don't want to provide it because it's dirty work."Copyright © 2015, CT Now