Protesters call for South Side adult trauma center

August 15, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Damian Turner's friends say he might be alive if he could have been treated at the University of Chicago Medical Center, which has no trauma center. They camped outside the South Side hospital Monday, calling for U of C Medical Center to offer Level 1 trauma care to adults, which isn't available at any South Side hospital.

While every hospital has an emergency room, very few are able to provide medical services to people with severe injuries -- such as burns or gunshot wounds -- because of strict, state-imposed requirements.

The University of Chicago Medical Center has such care for children, but not for adults. Protesters want that to change. Outside on Monday, they changed, "Bring the trauma centers back. How can you ignore? When we're dying at your door."

Nearly two dozen people camped out in front of the University of Chicago's Medical Center overnight, hoping to get the hospital to provide level one trauma services to the city's South Side. The protest comes on the anniversary of Turner's death. The 18-year-old old was gunned down just a few blocks from the hospital. He was not the intended target.

"If you're injured, there is no reason to have to travel so far to get medical treatment," Sheila Rush, Damien's mother said. "We don't do this only for Damian, but everyone else who comes behind him."

Until 1988, the University of Chicago provided level one trauma care to adults, as did Michael Reese Hospital, which closed in 2007.

"When you look at hospitals in the Chicago area over the last 25 years, 22 have closed, six of those in the last ten years," Elizabeth Lively, Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, said. "It comes back to the question of adequate funding for those trauma centers."

This health care expert says the problem, is most people who come into emergency rooms are either uninsured or covered by Medicare and Medicaid. The state's hospitals, she says are under reimbursed for those services, and subsidize a large chunk of it.

"It is a highly resource intensive service. You need to have 24 hour surgery on call, you need to have certain specialties and sub-specialties.," Lively said. "The public policy question today is will the level one services that are in place now survive, looking at the cuts that are pending in Congress."

But protesters aren't buying it. They say, the University of Chicago Medical Center has more than enough resources to fund level one trauma, if they chose to.

"The University of Chicago has been a drain on resources in this community because it receives over $58 million in tax breaks and only provides $10 million in charity care," Toussaint Losier, Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), said.

The University of Chicago Hospitals issued a statement saying the hospital is "one of the city's leading providers of medical services to the poor. . . but no hospital can solve by itself the problems of an area that has lost seven hospitals and thousands of hospital beds."

The statement goes on to say the medical center is committed to improve access to quality care for the South Side.

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