U of C Hospitals seeks state OK for trauma center, hospital expansion

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University of Chicago Medical Center this week submitted to the state a $269 million proposal that includes adding a Level 1 adult trauma center at its Hyde Park campus.

The project also expands its emergency department and acute care beds, and converts one of its hospitals into a cancer care center.

The mega proposal is the culmination of a five-year battle by South Side activists to get an adult trauma center on the U of C campus. It was sparked in 2010 by the death of an 18-year-old who was shot five blocks from U of C and died during the 11-minute trip to downtown Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

The so-named Get CARE plan would add 188 inpatient beds to Mitchell Hospital, being turned into a cancer care center. U of C has 617 beds. By comparison, Northwestern Medicine and Rush University Medical Center — two much less busy teaching hospitals in the area — have 894 and 731 beds, respectively. The expansion would bring U of C to 805 beds.

Capacity at U of C’s adult emergency department would also increase under the plan from 36 bays to 41, including four new trauma resuscitation bays.

“These are special rooms to accommodate the large multi-disciplinary team of clinicians needed to respond to trauma,” U of C Medical Center President Sharon O’Keefe explained Wednesday.

There has not been an adult trauma center on the South Side since Michael Reese Hospital closed in 1991.

“This proposal is a response to a very thoughtful study over the last year of what is needed in our South Side community and on the South Side of Chicago, and how does the U of C fill an important niche in the overall delivery system,” O’Keefe said. “Get CARE is a plan to reduce the disparities that exist in access to critical care … and address the severe capacity constraints our medical center faces.”

If the hospital’s certificate of need is approved by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, the second-largest project in the hospital’s history could break ground in May and be completed in 2018.

The need is clear, according to the proposal. In the past year, the medical center has experienced a near-full, 90 percent capacity 310 days. In that same period, it was at full capacity 172 days, diverting ambulances and turning away acute care referrals from surrounding community hospitals.

“There are a few hospitals across the state that might be in the 80 percent occupancy rate, but we are by far the busiest,” said O’Keefe. “We have our hearing with the board in May, and are confident that our story will be compelling. We would plan to implement immediately after approval.”

Under the plan, patients served at the 154-bed Mitchell Hospital on 58th Street between Drexel and Maryland will be moved in July to the Center for Care and Discovery, sited on 57th Street, between Cottage Grove and Maryland.

The new cancer care center is needed to address the higher incidence of certain types of cancer and higher mortality rates from cancer among the African-American community U of C serves, officials said, noting the American Cancer Society attributes the higher mortality rates in part to lack of access to quality or timely care.

CCD is the medical center’s newest hospital, which opened February 2013, at a cost of $700 million. The medical center’s Emergency Department, now sited in Mitchell, will be relocated to CCD, along Cottage Grove, in a structure now housing a new medical center parking garage.

The entire project, expected to bring more than 1,000 jobs and 400 construction jobs, was announced in December, when officials scrapped plans to establish a South Side trauma center at Holy Cross Hospital. O’Keefe said after further review, integrating an adult trauma center with U of C’s current Level 1 pediatric trauma program and Burn and Complex Wound Center “made the most sense.”

Activists organized as the Trauma Care Coalition had tried for years to pressure U of C to establish the adult trauma center in Hyde Park, citing the distance to other areas for care and how it has negatively affected the odds of survival for victims of violence-plagued communities.

Resisting for several years, U of C finally began working with the community for a resolution, and the result has been a testament to the organizing power of the predominantly young people from the Woodlawn and Kenwood-Oakland neighborhoods who carried the battle flag and never let up.

Asked about takeaways from the long and contentious journey that led here, O’Keefe reflected.

“What we learned from working with the community, and from our analysis, is that trauma is essential. But we also learned from the community that there is a great demand for emergency care and for the University of Chicago Medicine to meet the needs for complex specialty care,” she said. “It’s been a learning experience, and I think it has brought us closer to the community and it has also helped us to understand the essential role that U of C plays on the South Side of Chicago.”

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