More than 200 demonstrators marched down Cottage Grove Ave. on Chicago's South Side Wednesday night to the University of Chicago Medical Center. The protesters demanded the hospital open a Level 1 trauma center.
While chanting “how can you ignore while we’re dying at your door,” the group left two mock coffins covered in flowers across outside of the hospital on 58th Street. The demonstration came just hours after a state hearing hosted by state Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) to discuss the lack of a trauma center on Chicago's South Side. Calling the area a “trauma desert,” community groups and activists say a South Side trauma center would save lives.
“People wouldn’t have to travel as far,” said Zan Adams, co-founder of RISE Chicago, a member group of the Trauma Center Coalition, and organizer of the demonstration.
Currently, South Sides residents that need treatment for traumatic injuries have to travel long distances to a hospital on the North or West Sides of the city or the suburbs. In an area with a high concentration of trauma cases, particularly due to gun violence, experts and activists say the consequences of such long travels can be dire, costing lives. At the hearing, Dr. Marie Crandall of Northwestern University, who last year published research showing the link between mortality rates and travel times, said gunshot victims more than five miles away from a trauma center have a 21 percent higher mortality rate.
“It's totally unacceptable, said Sen. Hunter. “Too many people are dying.”
Community groups have specifically called on the University of Chicago because they say the institution has the money, proximity and resources to build one. The hospital had one until 1988, when hospital officials decided to concentrate resources elsewhere. Currently, the hopsital treats trauma children under the age of 16, but adults in need of such care are sent to other area hospitals.
“We feel the University is not doing what they can do best, by providing a trauma center on the South Side which they have the resources to provide,” said Michael Dye, co-founder and president of RISE Chicago told demonstrators in front of the hospital. “The fact that they won’t do it is unacceptable.”
The 19 year-old south side resident helped found RISE after a close friend, 19-year old Columbia College student Kevin Ambrose, was shot and killed near the 43rd Street Green Line stop in May. In an August interview with Progress Illinois, Dye said he “beat the ambulance to the hospital” after Ambrose was taken to John H. Stroger Hospital.
University officials say they lack the resources to open a Level 1 trauma care center and would have to cut back on other programs in order to have one. Representatives have met with groups before and have said they were open to working with other area hospitals on a solution, but one has yet to be found. In May, Kenneth Polonsky, dean of the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine said the hospital was “overwhelmed with patients” and told groups in a public community meeting in May that “if a Level 1 trauma center is needed, it will need to be at another hospital.”
Members of groups that are part of the Trauma Center Coalition say since the May meeting, there has been little follow up from the University.
“The University has not responded in the way that we would hope," said Veronica Morris-Moore, a 21 year-old member of Fearless Leading by the Youth. "They’re responding in a way that’s very passive. When we do have meetings with them, in my opinion, it’s just to pacify us. That is why we have to continue to protest and stand up for this ... too many lives are being lost.”
“It’s been a long three years, but we’re finally starting to get the attention we want from the University as well as our public officials,” she added.
Over the summer, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL, 1) began calling for a South Side trauma center. And, according to Dye, more meetings and protests, as well as hearings with state legislators, are in the works.
“Now that we have their support, I feel like are chances are higher and that we’re going to get it much faster than we thought.”