PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday April 24th, 2015, 11:45am

Trauma Center Activists Hold Overnight Vigil Outside U Of C President's Home (VIDEO)

Protesters held an overnight candlelight vigil outside the home of University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer as part of the ongoing campaign for an adult trauma center on Chicago's South Side. Progress Illinois takes a closer look at the push for expanded trauma care services in the city.

The ongoing activist campaign for an adult trauma center on Chicago's South Side continued Thursday evening with protesters holding an overnight candlelight vigil outside the home of University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer.

Since 2010, members of the Trauma Care Coalition have been demanding that U of C re-open a Level 1 adult trauma center on the city's South Side, which currently lacks such a 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.

At the vigil, held in a park area across the street from Zimmer's home near 59th Street and University Avenue, over 50 protesters prayed for a South Side adult trauma center and health care justice. Candles placed inside clear cups were spread across the lawn to spell out "trauma center now." Some of the people who attended the event camped out overnight at the vigil site. The activists held another press conference on the trauma center issue this morning.

"We're standing in front of his [Zimmer's] home to show him that people are still losing their lives," Veronica Morris-Moore, with the Trauma Care Coalition and Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), told those at the vigil Thursday evening. "These candles represent all the people who are still dying, all the lives that have been lost, and the lives that will be lost if the University of Chicago does not open up a Level 1 trauma center."

The U of C Medical Center currently runs a Level 1 pediatric trauma center at Comer Children's Hospital. In December, the medical center announced that its pediatric trauma program will be expanded to include 16- and 17-year-olds, up from the previous age limit of 15.

That announcement came the same month that U of C submitted its final bid to the Barack Obama Foundation in hopes of landing the coveted Obama presidential library and museum.

"I personally feel like (that) happened only to sweeten their bid for the library," Morris-Moore said of U of C's decision to increase the pediatric trauma center's age limit.

"An Obama library," Morris-Moore added, "is not enough to repair the damage that's happening in our communities. Our black lives matter, our young people matter, and we need a trauma center now."

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 lack of a nearby Level 1 trauma center, but he died an hour-and-a-half later. Activists with the Trauma Care Coalition believe Turner would have lived had there been an adult trauma ward nearby.

Darrius Lightfoot with FLY was a good friend of Turner's and helped spearhead the Trauma Care Coalition.

"My first reason for being out here [fighting for an adult trauma center] in 2010 was because of Damian ... and I'm out here now, because there's so many other people and so many other families who have been harmed and who are hurt (by) there not being a Level 1 trauma center," Lightfoot said. "And we're right here in front of Zimmer's house to let him know that we are not going to leave, and you will have to listen to us."

Before the vigil, which began at 6:30 p.m. and continued through Friday morning, trauma center activists protested briefly outside the home of Martin Nesbitt, the Barack Obama Foundation's chair. Near Nesbitt's home, the protesters put small white flags in the ground to symbolize the people who have died from traumatic injuries in Chicago's "trauma center deserts."

"If Marty Nesbitt or Rob Zimmer or [U of C Medical Center President] Sharon O'Keefe thinks that they're going to get this Obama presidential library in peace while continuing to ignore the needs of the South Side, then they got another thing coming," Morris-Moore said. "We will not give up this fight, and we will not astray from the needs of our community."

Morris-Moore did not mince words when asked what the coalition is demanding of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the trauma center issue.

"What we want Emanuel to do is care about the South Side," she said. "He rallied very heavily to get black people to support him and back him, and he needs to support us and back us ... We need Mayor Emanuel to actually implement true policies that show black lives matter, and if he thinks that the reparations [for police torture survivors] legislation is enough, then he's wrong."

Here's more from Morris-Moore as well as comments from Shiro Wachira with Students for Health Equity at U of C:

The U of C Medical Center issued the following statement to Progress Illinois on the trauma center issue in light of Thursday's demonstration:

Building an adult Level 1 trauma center on the South Side is not something the University of Chicago Medical Center can undertake alone. A trauma center is a demanding public service that requires a geographic assessment, as well as coordination and planning by the city, state and health care providers throughout Chicago. Many states have been successful in funding trauma systems, but a universal solution has yet to be found.

Medical center leaders have had and continue to have discussions with government agencies and other area health care providers about ways to improve the health of the South Side. Among ongoing topics are violence prevention and trauma care. They remain open to working with the state, city, county and other health care providers to evaluate the needs of the South Side and the long-term financial and operational realities of running an adult trauma center.

In the meantime, the University of Chicago Medical Center must continue to focus on supporting other distinctive lifesaving services critical to the community, including:

* Comprehensive emergency departments for adults and children.
* The South Side's only trauma center for children, which also requires vast staffing and resources. The medical center has taken formal steps to raise the age limit of its pediatric program to include 16- and 17-year-old children.
* A neonatal intensive care unit, which is among the largest in the Midwest.
* The South Side's only burn unit (one of two in Chicago), which requires vast resources involving multidisciplinary teams of physicians, nurses and other caregivers, in addition to specialized equipment.
* The city's only hospital-based emergency helicopter service, which also serves Northwest Indiana.
* Providing $283 million in in benefits and services to the community, or 22.5 percent of its operating expenses.

In other news, a separate demonstration was held on U of C's campus Thursday afternoon to protest John Yoo, who was speaking at the university's law school for a workshop. Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer under President George W. Bush's administration, co-wrote the so-called "torture memos" drafted after 9/11 that authorized the use of torture techniques in CIA interrogations.

The Chicago chapter of World Can't Wait spearheaded the protest against Yoo, held in front of the U of C Law School.

"It is unconscionable that this unrepentant torture architect is being honored at another prestigious university, here in our city," Chicago World Can't Wait wrote on its website. "John Yoo has no right to speak on any ethical or legal matter - he should be on trial for the 'work' he did for the Bush regime."

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