Why south side trauma center activists face an uphill battle, and why they won't quit

Why south side trauma center activists face an uphill battle, and why they won't quit
Chicago trauma care protest, Nov. 20, 2013. (Photo credit: DNAInfo/Sam Cholke)

For our November Blogapalooza-Hour, ChicagoNow has given us this topic:

Write about a great challenge faced. By you. By someone else. By an entity. At any point in the past or in the future.

Moving beyond the meta-possibilities of simply writing about the inherent challenge of ChicagoNow’s monthly Blogapalooza-Hour, the challenge on my mind today is the one faced by south side activists – namely STOP & FLY – pushing the city to create a Level 1 adult trauma center on the south side.

The reason this is on my mind (and unlike my previous Blogapalooza entries, here and here, this one actually fits in with my Eye On Chi blog), is that I read an article today at DNAInfo by Sam Cholke about the latest in the south side activists’ ongoing push for a south side trauma center. Today’s advancement – and this is a big one – is that the effort got some new key supporters: state senator Mattie Hunter, as well as Dr. Phillip Verhoef of the University of Chicago Medical Center.

The DNAInfo story quotes Northwestern’s Dr. Marie Crandall, who shook up the debate earlier this year when she released a study tying travel time in trauma cases to outcome. In other words – and this may seem like common sense – the time it takes for a trauma victim to reach trauma care affects his or her survival.

This is significant for STOP & FLY because their campaign was launched in 2010 when STOP co-founder Damian Turner was shot and killed. The 18-year-old Turner was shot at 61st and Cottage Grove, less than a mile from UCMC.

But because the university has a children’s trauma center (it caps at 15-year-olds) but none for adults, Turner was driven to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, about 11 and a half miles away.

When you consider the high volume of trauma victims (namely gunshot victims) on the south side, and when you consider that UCMC was one of the original 10 trauma centers in the city and closed in 1988 after three years of operation, you can understand why activists are outraged by the south side trauma desert. (For a more comprehensive feel on the neighborhoods and all things homicide, check out RedEye’s homicide tracker, which dates back to 2007.)

Here’s where it gets tricky for these activists, and why theirs is a MONUMENTAL challenge for which they should be lauded for continuing to face head on. This is the basics of what you need to understand about this fight, and since I have to stop before 10 pm, I’ll whip thru these rapid fire:

  1. Back in 1986 when Chicago decided to launch their trauma system, hospitals wanted to become trauma centers because they thought it would bring prestige to the hospital, and hence new business. Instead, it brought bills, bills, bills. And all the well-to-do patients who they assumed would want to come to the trauma center because “We want the best treatment” actually did the opposite and stayed away.
  2. By their own count, UCMC lost $2 million per year on their trauma center from 1986 to 1988.
  3. Unlike a Starbucks, you can’t just look at an area without a trauma center and say, “Okay, we need to put one here.” Only certain hospitals have the resources to become trauma centers.
  4. Among those, of course, is still UCMC, while Dr. Crandall – as cited in the DNAInfo story – believes that Advocate Trinity (2320 E. 93rd St.) is the best site for a south side trauma center.
  5. Regardless – and here’s the rub – nobody can force a hospital to become a trauma center. First of all, it is, as of now, outside of anyone’s power to do so. And secondly, a trauma center must be run by people who truly care about providing trauma care. Without that passion, a trauma center just doesn’t work, because they continue to lose money and put a strain on hospital staffs.

Because of all this, the south side activists face an unbelievable uphill battle. The south side UNQUESTIONABLY needs a trauma center, and yet there’s no real way to force anyone to become one, nor is there a good way to simply open one.

Talk about a challenge that warrants being faced.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know this: STOP, FLY, and now RISE are not going to quit. They didn’t quit when no one stood with them, and they damn sure aren’t going to quit now.

A salute to the fighters.


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