South Side Trauma Center Is Closing The Racial Gap In Ambulance Run Times

South Side Trauma Center
A new study shows that the racial gap in ambulance run times has closed since the University of Chicago Medicine Level 1 adult trauma center opened in May 2018. Ambulance run times have declined citywide, but Black patients from low-income areas have experienced the largest decrease, according to the study. Rob Hart / Courtesy of University of Chicago Medicine
South Side Trauma Center
A new study shows that the racial gap in ambulance run times has closed since the University of Chicago Medicine Level 1 adult trauma center opened in May 2018. Ambulance run times have declined citywide, but Black patients from low-income areas have experienced the largest decrease, according to the study. Rob Hart / Courtesy of University of Chicago Medicine

South Side Trauma Center Is Closing The Racial Gap In Ambulance Run Times

The University of Chicago’s Level 1 adult trauma center — the first on the city’s South Side in 30 years — is making a dent in racial disparities, according to a new study.

A study released Wednesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows reduced ambulance run times across the city, but those transport times were especially reduced in Black neighborhoods. Researchers looked at ambulance runs related to traumatic injuries between May 2017 and April 2019, which spans one year before the university opened its trauma center and about one year after.

Black patients from low-income ZIP codes experienced the largest decrease — with the 60649 ZIP code in South Shore witnessing the sharpest decline of 8.9 minutes, according to the study.

“Our analysis suggests that disparities in access to trauma care arising from structural racism can be reduced by opening trauma centers in historically underserved areas,” the JAMA study says.

Dr. Ali Abbasi, who graduated from the University of Chicago medical school this year, worked on the study.

“When we invest in communities that are historically neglected that have poor services due to the legacy of systemic racism, we can actually overcome some of those disparities,” Abbasi said.

In 2018, the University of Chicago opened the trauma center after a long-protracted fight with local activists who repeatedly noted wide disparities in trauma care between the city’s majority-Black communities on the South Side and communities in other parts of the city.

A public health study from 2013 found Chicago-area gunshot victims who are shot more than five miles away from a trauma center have a higher mortality rate. For decades, until the new center opened, the nearest high-level adult trauma centers were located several miles away near downtown, on the near West Side or in southwest suburban Oak Lawn.

High-level trauma centers treat the most acute wounds such as those suffered from gunshots, stabbings and car accidents. The centers feature a costly, complex web of care with specially trained surgeons and nurses who treat penetrating wounds. Trauma care must be approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The JAMA study notes that further research is needed to explore whether the U of C trauma center has affected mortality.

“This study illustrates the necessary and very real impact our trauma center has had on the South Side. In addition to providing this critical resource, our Level 1 adult trauma center has made our entire organization even stronger and shown how we’re able to adapt as needed to serve our neighbors and the communities that count on us for care,” said Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr., founding director of the University of Chicago Medicine Trauma Center.

Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. You can follow her on Twitter at @natalieymoore.