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Advocates for South Side trauma center gain momentum

For years, activists have protested the University of Chicago hospital for closing its adult trauma center. And for years, the university has argued a facility would cost too much money. But growing public support for the idea may be turning the tide.

Veronica Morris-Moore is part of the coalition pushing the school.

“I am connected to this issue because I am a member of Fearless Leading by the Youth. I got started two weeks after Damian Turner, who used to be a cofounder of FLY, got shot in his back on 61st and Cottage Grove,” Morris-Moore said.

Related: Patients on Southeast Side take more time to reach trauma centers

The shooting of youth activist Damian Turner happened just around the corner from U of C. The hospital didn’t provide adult trauma care so Turner had to be driven nine miles north to Northwestern’s hospital — he died less than 90 minutes later.

Morris-Moore joined a campaign to pressure the university to reopen its Level 1 adult trauma center, which take care of people injured by penetrating crashes, stabbings, gunshots.

After a few initial protests Moore’s group met with University of Chicago officials.

“And that was the meeting just to, I guess, say officially ‘no,’” she said.

Chicago is served by six trauma centers sprinkled around the city and nearby suburbs — none on the city’s South Side where some areas suffer high rates of violence.

The University of Chicago closed its adult trauma center in 1988 after two years. Officials say the hospital lost $2 million annually serving patients without health insurance.

The effort to reopen U of C’s trauma center gained additional attention last fall when the school bid for the Obama Presidential Library. Then this March there was a big protest near the Ritz-Carlton hotel where the university held a $4.5 billion fundraiser.

“That money could fund a trauma center for years and years. I wouldn’t say we’re in a very desperate moment right now but I think we’re at a very important moment,” Morris-Moore said.

That moment features a growing coalition of increasingly powerful voices, from pastors to politicians. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) has proposed that the federal government grant states money for trauma services.

Despite multiple requests the University of Chicago declined to be interviewed.

Meanwhile, the need for adult trauma care on the South Side hasn’t gone away.

Marie Crandall, a surgeon at Northwestern University hospital, put out a study that confirmed an earlier WBEZ analysis.

“What we found was that for similarly injured individuals, if you were shot more than five miles from a trauma center in Chicago that your likelihood of dying was 21 percent greater,” Crandall said.

Earlier this year the Illinois Department of Public Health put out a trauma center feasibility study.

The University of Chicago scores the highest but three other South Side hospitals could be Level 2 adult trauma centers: Jackson Park, Roseland and Advocate Trinity. The difference between a Level 1 and Level 2 is the medical teaching aspect.

But for cash-strapped hospitals real feasibility still comes down to money.

“I don’t know what a perfect solution is and I don’t know that adding a trauma center will make as much a difference as most people hope it does,” Crandall said. “It has to be studied because if we put a tremendous amount of resources in something that ultimately demonstrated no difference in outcomes or even worse a poorly functioning hospital, we would need to reevaluate.”

Running a trauma center can exceed $20 million annually. That’s why the conversation always turns back to the well-funded University of Chicago.

“The conversation moves slowly but I feel it’s in a better place than 5 years ago,” Crandall added.

In fact, officials are working with the state to raise the age of its pediatric trauma center to include 16 and 17 year olds. And in another twist, the university confirms that it is currently working on a study to analyze whether it can open an adult trauma center.

That’s quite a change from the “no” officials once said.

is WBEZ’s South Side Bureau reporter. Follow Natalie on Google+,  Twitter


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