PI Original Ellyn Fortino Thursday April 21st, 2016, 9:47pm

U Of C Officials Discuss Trauma Care, Hospital Expansion At Community Forum

Progress Illinois provides coverage from the University of Chicago Medicine's community forum about its plans to increase access to emergency, trauma and specialty care on the South Side. 

University of Chicago Medicine officials were met with a largely receptive crowd Thursday evening during a community forum about the medical center's plans to increase access to emergency, trauma and specialty care. 

U of C Medicine is looking to establish a Level 1 adult trauma center on its Hyde Park campus, relocate and expand its emergency department near its Center for Care and Discovery hospital and renovate Mitchell Hospital into a dedicated cancer facility. 

The three projects fall under one $269 million initiative U of C Medicine is calling its "Get Care" plan.

The project has "been designed to dramatically increase access to health services for" and "in response to the needs of the South Side community," U of C Medical Center President Sharon O'Keefe said at the forum, held at the Life Center Church of God in Christ, 5500 S. Indiana Ave. "In general, it represents a tremendous investment in health care on the South Side."

Forum attendee Jean Johnson applauded the plan. She was particularly happy about the new cancer care center. Johnson, a survivor of bladder and laryngeal cancer, received treatment at the U of C Medical Center. 

"I know why I'm still alive. Thank you," Johnson told the U of C Medicine officials. "It was the University of Chicago."

O'Keefe said the Get Care plan is also aimed at addressing the medical system's existing capacity constraints. The medical center, for example, had a 90 percent capacity rate during 310 days last year. The number of annual adult emergency room visits have also increased from 39,000 to 57,000 between 2009 and 2015; and that number is expected to grow over the next five years to about 90,000, O'Keefe detailed.

The project seeks to increase the medical center's number of hospital beds by 188, bringing the total to about 800. Some 1,000 permanent and 400 constructions jobs are expected to be created through the project. 

Chicago's South Side, hard hit by gun violence, currently lacks a Level 1 adult trauma facility. As a result, seriously injured people are forced to travel miles away to other parts of the city for medical care.

The U of C Medical Center previously operated a Level 1 adult trauma center for a short time, but closed it in 1988 for financial reasons. The medical center currently runs a pediatric trauma unit. 

O'Keefe acknowledged that the medical system anticipates losing $19 million annually on adult trauma services. 

"You have high cost, low revenue; it creates losses," she said, referring to trauma care.

She said specialty care expansion will help make the project financially sustainable. 

"The importance of an integrated plan going forward is to grow other specialty services, to both serve the needs of the community, (and) to create critical mass of patients to take care of, to keep the specialists busy and to serve the needs of specialty populations," O'Keefe said. "The proportional growth of our business across the specialty services and in trauma are the vehicle by which we can create an economic model that will allow us to be financially viable over the long haul."

U of C Medicine submitted its application for the Get Care plan to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board in February. The board is expected to review the proposal on May 10. 

Plans for the adult trauma center will also eventually need approval from the Illinois Department of Public Health and Chicago Trauma Network.

If the project gains approval, construction on the emergency room will begin first, with a target start date of summer 2016. The goal is to have the emergency room completed at the end of 2017. The redevelopment of Mitchell Hospital will occur over two phases, and it is estimated to take four to five years to complete. The trauma center's construction could be completed in 2018. 

Cristal Thomas, U of C Medicine's vice president for community health engagement, said university officials expect to convene a community advisory board to provide input during the project's planning and implementation phases. Such a board would be formed after the May 10 Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board meeting, once the project is approved. 

An organizer with the Trauma Care Coalition, which led a multiyear campaign urging U of C Medicine to open a South Side adult trauma center, asked whether the group would be represented on the board. Thomas said details on who will sit on the advisory panel haven't been finalized yet, though Trauma Care Coalition members will be among the stakeholders from which the medical center will seek feedback in order to determine the board's makeup.

Jawanza Malone, executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, a Trauma Care Coalition member group, weighed in on the community involvement issue during remarks after the forum.

"The critical point that was raised, and sort of skirted a little bit, was that there needs to be ample representation of the Trauma Care Coalition on whatever advisory board that is created," he told Progress Illinois. "We don't dispute the fact that it should cover a larger set of issues than just trauma care, but the fact that trauma care is a key part of this plan, [it] calls for, sort of begs for, representation from the people that have been fighting for five years to make this happen."

The Trauma Care Coalition plans to holds its own public meeting on May 19 about the community's vision for trauma care on the South Side. The event will take place at 6 p.m. at Kennicott Park, 4434 S. Lake Park Ave.

"There is a lot of concern about what the after care is gonna look like," Malone said. "People come in [to the trauma center]. There's been some traumatic incident. What's gonna happen to make sure that that person emotionally is OK as well as physically OK?"

The group's members invited O'Keefe to their meeting. She said she would look into attending or having another U of C Medicine official there. 

She noted that the search for a trauma center chief is underway, and the goal is to have an official selected by this fall.

"Once we have that individual on campus, we will begin to organize and to develop comprehensive plans for all of our trauma services," O'Keefe said. "And post-acute care is definitely part of any comprehensive trauma service."

The public can learn more about U of C Medicine's Get Care plan at UChicagoGetCare.org.

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