Quick Hit La Risa Lynch Thursday August 1st, 2013, 2:48pm

U.S. Rep. Rush Seeks Federal Funding To End Trauma Center Deserts

For Michael Dye, the death of his best friend is still raw. Dye wonders if his friend, 19 year-old Kevin Ambrose, would be alive today if Chicago’s South Side had a level-1 adult trauma center.

“We actually beat the ambulance to the hospital which was like a 30- to 45-minute ride at 11 p.m., which was surprising to me,” Dye said in detailing Ambrose's ambulance ride to Stroger Hospital after having been shot near the Green Line stop near 43rd Street in May.

Dye wondered why his friend wasn’t taken to either Provident Hospital or the University of Chicago (U of C) Medical Center. Instead, Ambrose, a Columbia College theatre student, was taken to Stroger, which is located nearly seven miles away from where he was shot — and is where he later died.

“It really hurts personally because Kevin’s chances of living would have been at a higher rate if he was taken to U of C or Provident or any other trauma center on the South Side, if we had one,” Dye, also 19, said.

Dye hopes legislation proposed by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D, IL-1) would address the lack of trauma centers on the city’s South Side. Several studies including one by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) shows that the distance to a trauma center spells life or death for those sustaining a serious injury.

Rush’s Trauma Act seeks $100 million in funding to provide resources to hospitals to improve and establish more trauma centers and emergency care networks nationwide. The aim is to address what Rush calls trauma center deserts that affect both urban and rural communities. Rush introduced the legislation July 11 during a meeting of the House’s appropriation committee.

“This is such a dire need that we got to do everything that we can as a nation,” said Rush, whose own story mirrors Dye’s.

In 1999, the congressman’s 21 year-old son, Huey, was shot less than a half a block from a hospital on the city’s southeast side. But he was transported to Advocate Christ Medical Center in southwest suburban Oak Lawn. “He bled to death,” the congressman said. “[That's] what happens to those who can be saved but die because they can’t get to a trauma center on time.”

Dr. Maria Crandall, who co-authored the AJPH study, said there is a correlation between transport times and survivability of gunshot wounds. Crandall is associate professor of surgery at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Individuals, Crandall said, shot more than five miles away from a trauma center have longer transport times. The study noted that each additional mile from a trauma center increases transportation times by 1.5 minutes.

That, she explained, contributes to mortality rates of about 21 percent in areas where there are trauma center deserts. She added that some penetrating wounds are survivable if the victim gets to surgery within an hour of sustaining an injury.

“Having access to level one trauma does increase survival rates,” Crandall said.

Provident Hospital, 500 E 51st St., ended ambulance runs in 2011, while the University of Chicago Medical Center closed its level-1 adult trauma center in 1988. The Hyde Park-based hospital operates a pediatric trauma center. And while the South Side has several community hospitals including Advocate Trinity, St. Bernard Hospital, South Shore Hospital and Jackson Park, none of them have level-1 trauma centers.

Kandice Denard, 23, believes race factors into the lack of trauma centers on Chicago's South Side. Her brother, Damian Turner, 18, was shot two years ago on 61st and Cottage Grove Ave., two blocks from the University of Chicago Medical Center.

His death triggered awareness about the trauma center desert on the city's South Side. Turner was a co-founder of FLY or Fearless Leading Youth, an organization that has protestagainst the hospital for its lack of trauma services in a community hard hit by gun violence.

“If it was Whites instead of Blacks that is at risk of getting shot, stabbed or getting any other trauma injury, I believe it would be the other way around,” Denard said.

Poverty also contributes to hospitals forgoing trauma centers. Jackson Park Hospital’s CEO William Dorsey III, M.D., explained that hospitals on the South Side serve a population that has low insurance or no insurance coupled with a high volume of trauma-related injuries.

“That combination is pretty lethal for anybody in this area to open a trauma center,” Dorsey said.

Kevin Scanlan, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council (MCHC), applauded Rush’s efforts, but said the funding is a just start.

The money, Scanlan said, covers the losses for Illinois' 19 level-1 trauma centers, but it wouldn’t sustain them. Hospitals, he said, operating level-1 trauma centers run them at a $100 million deficit annually. Level-1 trauma center hospitals must have certain medical services, like radiology, available all day, which contributes to the high costs.

“If some outside funding can be made available either at the federal level, state level, city level and county level, that might provide opportunities for traditional level-1 trauma centers,” Scanlan said.

Scanlan’s organization supports Rush’s legislation, but he said it will be an uphill battle for it to pass the Republican-controlled House since its members typically do not embrace health care reform.

Rush admits the money barely scratches the surface of the problem, but he believes it will allow hospitals to build trauma centers, expand existing ones, and make others more efficient. The congressman said the money is already approved under President Obama’s Affordable Health Care act, but it is not yet appropriated. Rush said the Department of Health and Human Services would allocate the money to states.

It will take a grassroots effort to pass the Trauma Act legislation, according to Rush. The goal is to get the money appropriated, then push for increases in funding.

“I think these members of Congress ... would see the wisdom in this, and we will be able to pass this legislation in a bipartisan matter,” Rush added.

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