Congressman Rush introduces bill to fund trauma centers

July 22, 2013

(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) flanked by activists who want a trauma center on Chicago’s South Side. The congressman has introduced a bill that would allocate money to hospitals for the costly treatment centers.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) has introduced a bill that would help hospitals across the country create trauma centers, including in his own South Side Chicago district, which currently has none.

The Trauma Act of 2013 would appropriate $100 million from the federal government to grant states, including Illinois, to promote rural and urban access to trauma centers and trauma-related specialities. States would have to match that money.

“Every member of Congress’ district is affected by too long travel times from the site of a trauma to a hospital that will indeed care for that trauma,” Rush said Monday in front of Jackson Park Hospital on 76th and Stony Island.

Trauma centers treat the most penetrating wounds caused by car crashes, stabbings and gunshots. These Level 1 centers are equipped with comprehensive emergency medical services. Surgeons and other doctors are in the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Trauma centers also have speciality physicians.

“We’re not under any illusion that $100 million aimed at this issue is enough money but we’ve got to start somewhere,” Rush said. He said he wants large local hospitals to coalesce with smaller medical centers to build a trauma center. Rush doesn’t have immediate plans to call for a vote.

The issue is personal for the South Side congressman.

In 1999, Rush’s son was shot on east 79th Street. He bypassed Jackson Park Hospital and an ambulance took him to Christ Hospital, a trauma center, further away in south suburban Oak Lawn. His son died.

“He could have been saved,” Rush said. “He would have only had to travel five to seven minutes if there was a Level 1 trauma center here at Jackson Park Hospital,” Rush said. There are no Level 1 trauma centers for adults on Chicago’s South Side – the area is sometimes called a “trauma desert.”

This past spring Dr. Marie Crandall, a professor in surgery/trauma care at Northwestern University, published a report in the American Journal of Public Health. Her data found that Chicago-area gunshot victims shot more than five miles from a trauma center had a higher mortality rate. Those patients were disproportionately black and less likely to be insured.

On Monday Crandall said some hospitals would be able to augment their services to at least treat penetrating wounds to take pressure off of Level 1 trauma centers.

The Chicago area has seven Level 1 adult trauma centers. In 2011, a WBEZ analysis suggested that when it came to ambulance run times to trauma centers, there were wide disparities in some parts of the city. For instance, patients living on the Southeast Side have to travel an average of 50 percent longer to get from the scene of an emergency to a trauma center. More than half of the trauma-related ambulance runs that originate in that part of town exceed 20 minutes, which is considered a professional standard within the city. Those neighborhoods include Hyde Park, Woodlawn, Pullman, South Shore and the Southeast Side.

For several years activists have pressured the University of Chicago hospital to reopen an adult trauma center. The hospital currently has one for children. But it’s a costly endeavor. When the university operated an adult trauma center from 1986-88, it hemorrhaged $2 million a year.

That’s only one reason the battle to reopen a trauma center on the South Side could be difficult. The state is hardly flush with cash and even if Congress passes the trauma bill, the money would not provide long-term funding.

“A one-time infusion of cash to Jackson Park Hospital that would allow us to meet the requirements to be a Level 1 or Level 2 trauma center is not the answer because we need sustainability for something like that,” said Dr. William Dorsey, CEO of Jackson Park Hospital. “The problem on the Southeast Side of Chicago is that you have a high volume of trauma penetrating injuries but we unfortunately are in an area of low insurance coverage or no insurance coverage. So that combination is pretty lethal.”

Natalie Moore is WBEZ’s South Side Bureau reporter. Follow her @natalieymoore.