PI Original Ellyn Fortino Thursday May 22nd, 2014, 5:33pm

U Of C Physicians, Med Students Join Push For A South Side Trauma Center (VIDEO)

Members of the University of Chicago medical community are joining area residents in their call for a South Side trauma center.

The ongoing fight for a Level 1 adult trauma center on Chicago's South Side saw support Thursday afternoon from University of Chicago medical students, physicians and other allies who called on the institution's medical center to expand access to emergency health services.

Chicago's South Side currently lacks an adult trauma center, which forces people with serious injuries to travel miles away to a hospital on the city's North or West Sides or the suburbs to seek medical care.

Toting signs that read "Trauma Center Now!", the group of doctors, students and area residents called on the University of Chicago to take the lead when it comes to addressing the city's “trauma desert." 

The University of Chicago Medical Center opened a Level 1 adult trauma center back in 1986, but closed it in 1988 for financial reasons. The university runs a trauma center for children at Comer Children’s Hospital, but it only accepts patients who are 15 years-old or younger.

Evan Lyon, a South Side resident and University of Chicago physician who specializes in internal medicine, said an 18 year-old male was shot on his block this week. Because the 18 year-old was too old to go to Comer Children's Hospital, he was brought to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the nearest adult trauma center.

"The main issue to his living or dying was probably the traffic on Lake Shore Drive, and that's not just," stressed Lyon, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at the university. "He's lucky to have lived, but it's luck. We can solve that problem by putting a trauma center here in our neighborhood."

Lyon added that the University of Chicago is also "incomplete as as an institution of higher medical education" without an adult trauma center. 

"Our emergency doctors, our surgeons go elsewhere to learn about trauma care," he said.

Philip Verhoef, an intensive care physician who works at the University of Chicago Medical Center's adult and pediatric ICU, said he is fighting for a South Side trauma facility because he "couldn't understand why when somebody turns 16 they're no longer able to come to the University of Chicago and receive care if they're in a trauma."

Verhoef, who both works and lives in Hyde Park, also has "selfish reasons" for wanting an adult trauma center in the area.

"I need a Level 1 trauma center," he stressed. "It doesn't seem right for me that me or my family would have to go 10 miles in order to get the appropriate care, especially when we know that the amount of time it takes to get to a trauma center is really critical towards how people actually do in recovering from their trauma."

South Shore resident Peter Draper, an emergency physician who works at Westlake Community Hospital in suburban Melrose Park, noted that the city of Chicago does has a comprehensive trauma system. The issue is "the University of Chicago withdrew from that trauma system and refuses to participate in it."

"Square mile after square mile, (there are) South Side communities that have no proximity to Level 1 trauma care, and if I were injured in my neighborhood of South Shore, I would be driven 10 miles to Northwestern Hospital right past the University of Chicago," said Draper, who is also on staff at Chicago's South Shore and Roseland Community hospitals.

The campaign for a South Side Level 1 adult trauma center launched in 2010 after 18-year-old student and youth activist Damian Turner was shot near the corner of 51st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, just a few blocks away from the University of Chicago Hospital. Turner was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital near the Loop due to the absence of a nearby Level 1 trauma center, but he died an hour-and-a-half later. Activists with the Trauma Care Coalition, which is leading the push for a South Side trauma center, believe Turner would have lived if there were an adult trauma ward nearby.

Thursday's demonstration was part of a series of actions this week targeting the University of Chicago Medical Center over its lack of an adult trauma facility. A group of activists staged a sit-in on Monday and blocked an entrance to a university parking garage that is under construction. University police moved the protestors from the construction site, but no arrests were made. The Trauma Care Coalition and its allies have a large march planned for Friday that will start at three South Side locations and converge near the university's medical campus.

The ramped up campaign for a South Side trauma center comes in response to the University of Chicago's bid to land the much sought-after Barack Obama presidential library and museum. If the elite university has the wherewithal to build the coveted attraction, activists argue that it also has the ability to reopen its adult trauma center.

Scott Goldberg, a third year medical student at the University of Chicago, explained that he was required to take a course on the topic of health care disparities.

"Strikingly, one of the things that we didn't talk about in that class was the health care disparity around trauma care in the city, in particular on the South Side," he said. "The university unfortunately is not doing its part in addressing that health care disparity, and while I give the university credit for addressing some of the other health care disparities on the South Side, this is a glaring lack of leadership on their part in addressing this one."

Here's more from Goldberg and Verhoef:

Meanwhile, David Ansell, chief medical officer at Rush University Medical Center, is also in support of expanding adult trauma care services on the South Side. He issued a statement Thursday, which read in part:

Hospitals are in the business of healing the sick and injured. What is the role of an academic medical center like the University of Chicago (or my institution Rush) if not to work with the community to find solutions to problems like the South Side trauma epidemic? For this reason, I urge the University of Chicago Hospital to expand its trauma services. U of C is a world-class healthcare institution. It has the ability to help solve this problem with its amazing physicians, nurses and a spectacular new hospital.

For its part, the University of Chicago Medical Center put out a statement in response to the call for an adult trauma center:

The University of Chicago Medicine is committed to providing the South Side of Chicago with access to the best health care and doctors possible. That commitment includes offering a number of distinctive, life-saving services, including the South Side's only burn-unit, a neonatal intensive care unit that serves nearly 1,000 infants from the South Side every year, and the South Side's only Level 1 trauma center for children.

Developing a Level 1 adult trauma center would compromise the medical center's ability to support these critical services. It would be a massive undertaking, requiring significant resources and support, as well as a complex decision-making process involving the city and state.

The South Side faces a complicated set of health care challenges, including the closing of seven hospitals and loss of 50 percent of all hospital beds in the region since 1988. Adult trauma care is one piece of that landscape. It is a complex issue that requires the collaboration of all layers of government, the community, Chicago's entire health care system and the existing trauma network. The University of Chicago Medicine cannot solve that problem by itself, but it would welcome the chance to take part in a comprehensive, regional effort to address the question. Read more about the complex issues related to an additional trauma center on the South Side of Chicago.

Verhoef said he believes the university's argument that it would be too costly to reopen an adult trauma center on its own is a valid one.

"I've talked to a lot of people, ER doctors, trauma surgeons ... It really is expensive," he said. "But we actually have no idea how much it would cost, and I don't think we've gotten a fair accounting from the university of what their expectation is."

While Verhoef is "not suggesting that they foot the bill themselves," he explained that the university should spearhead the effort to bring an adult trauma center to the South Side.

"There is no other South Side institution with the power, with the resources, with the vested interest, with the brains to be able to solve this," he said. "I think they need to step up and actually take the lead on solving what the trauma center problem is, working with us, the Trauma Center Coalition, working with government, working with their donors and coming up with a way that we can address the trauma center desert issue."

Veronica Morris-Moore, a leader with the Trauma Care Coalition and Fearless Leading by the Youth, said having physicians and medical students to back up the activists' concerns shows that "it's not just complaints from a poor, discriminated against community, but it's a real issue that people are dealing with."

"We need (university officials) to make good on their promise to be a regional part of a solution to solve trauma care on the South Side," she stressed.

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