Michael Dye found out the hard way that Chicago’s South Side doesn’t have an adult Level 1 trauma center.
On May 7, his friend Kevin Ambrose, 19, was shot in the chest at the 47th Street Green-Line station. Ambrose, a Columbia College theater major, was taken to the nearest trauma center, nearly seven miles away, at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County.
Ambrose died on the way to the hospital. But Dye wonders whether having had a Level 1 trauma center at The University of Chicago Medicine, a hospital at 5841 S. Maryland Ave., could have made a difference.
A trauma center for the South Side–and whose responsibility it is to provide it–were questions posed Tuesday during a meeting between University of Chicago Medicine officials and nearly 200 community members and students.
“I didn’t really know we didn’t have a trauma center, but once I lost Kevin, I realized we had a need,” said Dye, who attended the meeting. “On the South Side, there are a lot of shootings and a lot of dying, and people have to travel outside of the area to get help.”
Kenneth S. Polonsky, dean of the Division of the Biological Sciences at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, addresses the crowd during a public forum May 28 about the lack of a Level 1 trauma center on the South Side. Photo by Tyler Stabile
For three years, Fearless Leading by the Youth, a South Side group that organizes around access to health services, has been pushing for a Level 1 trauma center, which would be equipped with specialists and resources to handle severe injuries. Tuesday’s meeting was the first time University of Chicago executives had agreed to a public meeting, according to Victoria Criden, an organizer with FLY.
At the meeting on the university’s Hyde Park campus, Kenneth Polonsky, dean of the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, held firm to the hospital’s position that it doesn’t have the resources to host a trauma center and is not interested in cutting back on other programs to make room for one.
“I understand you feel very deeply we need to be a Level 1 trauma center,” Polonsky said. “But if a Level 1 trauma center is needed, it will need to be at another hospital.”
The University of Chicago is “overwhelmed with patients at the moment,” Polonsky continued. “If we are going to undertake the responsibility of a Level 1 trauma center, it is going to be instead of other things that we will not be able to do.”
The hospital hasn’t had a Level 1 trauma center for adults since it shuttered its center in 1988, according to Polonsky. If people are shot on the South Side, they’re taken to one of five Chicago hospitals that can handle more serious trauma cases.
Members of Students for Health Equity and members of Southside Together Organizing for Power contributed purple ribbons to show support for the trauma center movement. Photo by Tyler Stabile.
Fearless Leading by the Youth has argued that as the best resourced hospital on the South Side–and one that already provides trauma care to people under the age of 15–the University of Chicago Medicine has an obligation to bring essential care to the area.
On Jan. 27, the group held a sit-in at the university’s newly built $700 million hospital. That effort helped the group pressure the university into putting together Tuesday’s meeting, organizers said.
“I believe this meeting helped our community members who are concerned that we need a trauma center on the South Side, but it shows that the University of Chicago still [doesn’t] care,” said Victoria Criden, an organizer with FLY.
Recently released research like that of Dr. Marie Crandall, a professor of surgery and trauma care at Northwestern Memorial Hospital has found that the time it takes to get critical care can be critical. Patients shot more than five miles from a trauma center in Chicago had a lower survival rate, her research found. Criden said Crandall’s study Trauma Deserts was a turning point for the group, because it was one of the first pieces of research to focus exclusively on gunshot wounds and Chicago’s trauma care.
The lack of trauma care on the South Side is compounded by the fact that Provident Hospital of Cook County, not far from the University of Chicago hospital, hasn’t accepted emergency room ambulances since budget cuts forced it to stop the practice in 2011.
Crandall said the southeastern part of the city–where the University of Chicago is located—is a trauma desert.
Kenneth S. Polonsky, dean of the Division of the Biological Sciences at the Pritzker School of Medicine, speaks to those attending a public forum May 28 that addressed concerns about the lack of a Level 1 trauma 1 center on the city’s South Side. Photo by Tyler Stabile
During the meeting, Polonsky acknowledged the lack of trauma care on the South Side, but he emphasized that providing needed care didn’t depend only on the University of Chicago. It is the responsibility of other bodies, like the City of Chicago or the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, he said.
“If the decision of the society is that we need a Level 1 trauma center, we have to figure out an alternative” to the University of Chicago Medicine hosting it, Polonsky said at the meeting. “The issue is that 60 percent of hospital beds have closed on the South Side in the last 20 to 30 years or so.”
If the university won’t open a trauma center, the next question, some asked, is what role it could play.
Tanya Bennett, who worked as a burn unit nurse at the University of Chicago Medicine from 1984 to 1988, argued at Tuesday’s meeting that the university should lead the way toward collaborating with other area hospitals.
“Go into the communities and work with the other hospitals to help them prepare,” she said. “It doesn’t even have to be from a financial perspective. It can be from a teaching perspective, it can be resources.”
As he emerged from the meeting, Dye said he saw his next step was finding a way to open up such a conversation. He plans to start talking to other area hospitals about what they would need to open a center and bringing the responses he gets back to the University of Chicago.
In a city some have nicknamed “Chiraq” for its resemblance to a war zone, there is no time to waste, Dye said.
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Tags: Chicago, Chicago Reporter, Fearless Leading by the Youth, FLY, Green Line, hospital, Kenneth Polonsky, Kevin Ambrose, level 1, Marie Crandall, Michael Dye, Provident, shot, South Side, Southside Together Organizing for Power, STOP, Tanya Bennett, Trauma center, trauma desert, University of Chicago, Violence, Yana Kunichoff