PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday December 10th, 2014, 12:56pm

Activists Applaud U Of C Decision To Expand Pediatric Trauma Services (VIDEO)

Trauma Care Coalition members on Tuesday called the University of Chicago Medical Center's decision to increase the age limit of its Level 1 pediatric trauma center a "victory," but said their fight for expanded South Side emergency medical services for people of all ages will continue. Progress Illinois provides a closer look at U of C's planned expansion of its child trauma care unit.

Chicagoans who have been calling for a South Side Level 1 adult trauma center applauded the University of Chicago Medical Center's plan on Tuesday to expand its pediatric trauma program to include 16- and 17-year-olds. 

The medical system currently runs a Level 1 trauma center for children at Comer Children's Hospital, but only accepts patients who are 15-years-old or younger. 

At a press conference outside of the U of C Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine Tuesday, members of the Trauma Care Coalition called the university's decision to increase the age limit of its Level 1 pediatric trauma center a "victory," but said their fight for expanded South Side emergency medical services for people of all ages will continue.

"This is something that our coalition and members of our campaign, as well as the community, has been asking the university to do since 2011, a year after we started our initiative to bring trauma care to the South Side," said Veronica Morris-Moore, with the Trauma Care Coalition and Fearless Leading by the Youth. "Although it is a victory for the coalition, it is not our end goal. It was not our main goal. Our main goal is that the South Side of Chicago be provided with a Level 1 trauma center" for all ages.

That being said, Morris-Moore said the planned two-year age change at the child trauma care unit is "significant."

Among black youth, Morris-Moore said the age range between 16 and 18 is "where we're seeing the most traumatic injuries happening."

In a university news release issued Monday evening, U of C Medical Center President Sharon O'Keefe said officials will soon start the search for additional physicians and staff who specialize in pediatric trauma care. The trauma unit is expected to be ready to treat 16- and 17-year-old patients within a year, the release said.

The South Side, hard-hit by gun violence, currently lacks an adult Level 1 trauma facility. The U of C Medical Center opened a Level 1 adult trauma center back in 1986, but closed it in 1988 for financial reasons. 

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 U of C 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 had there been an adult trauma ward nearby.

"If there is any community that needs treatment for trauma, it is the South Side community, and the coalition will not rest until we have trauma care for all people on the South Side of Chicago," Morris-Moore said.

Here's more from Morris-Moore:

The U of C Medical Center still needs to obtain permission from the Illinois Department of Public Health to expand the age capacity of its pediatric trauma unit.  

Stephen Weber, U of C Medicine's Chief Medical Officer, told reporters Tuesday that "we think we can be really optimistic about getting the expansion."

When asked what led the university to move towards expanding child trauma services, Weber said, "This has been part of an ongoing discussion and consideration really over the last several years" on how to improve overall services to meet community needs.

Weber said the medical system expects that the pediatric trauma center would serve roughly 100 additional patients per year after the age limit is increased. He couldn't say how much the planned expansion is projected to cost. Officials are also still determining how many additional staffers they will need, Weber added.

The university official was asked whether conversations are taking place about offering trauma care on the South Side for those aged 18 and older.

"Yes," Weber said. "We've been undertaking those discussions for some time with, again, the experts at other centers in this city, experts in emergency medical services and the fire department to try to understand what the needs are and how those needs could be best met by an entire trauma system and rather than just looking at one institution." 

Here's more from the Q & A with Weber and reporters:

Philip Verhoef, an intensive care physician who works at the U of C Medical Center's adult and pediatric ICU, called the university's announcement "a real testament to the work these youth have done, and that the community has done in banding together and advocating for what is right and what is just here on the South Side of Chicago."

"Obviously, this is not the end result that we're looking for, but this is a step in the right direction," he said at the Trauma Care Coalition's press conference. "And, to me, it represents an opening of dialogue towards potentially finding more solutions to the fact that the South Side of Chicago is a trauma center desert."

Morris-Moore, meanwhile, said she believes U of C's decision to expand its child trauma care program comes in an effort to generate positive press as it tries to land the Barack Obama presidential library.

"I do think that this is a step towards showing themselves as (deserving) of the library, but I hope that they don't believe this is the only step that it takes," she said. "There is still hundreds of thousands of people that are in need of trauma care that are black, that do not have health care, that need that important life-saving service."

Weber, however, pushed back on the belief by some that the announcement to lift the trauma center age limit is motivated by a larger goal to win the presidential library.

"We feel as though we've been trying to listen to the community, not just the folks particularly active on this issue, but the broad Hyde Park and South Side community, and that's really the motivation to really undertake this right now," he said.

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