New emergency department lays foundation for U of C trauma center

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Participants cut the ribbon for UChicago Medicine’s new adult emergency department Tuesday, Dec. 5. Organizers are still urging the university to engage with the community to make sure the department and upcoming trauma center fit community needs. | Jean Lachat/ University of Chicago

Frank Parker was like a little brother to L. Anton Seals before he was killed at 63rd Street and Dorchester Avenue in 2013.

SinceParker’s murder and the other slayings that have plagued the city, organizers have worked to bring a trauma center to the South Side.

Later this month, they move one step closer to realizing that goal when the University of Chicago Medicine opens its new emergency department.

It’s a bittersweet celebration for some, though. Organizers who have led the campaign for better emergency services say that there’s still work to be done to make sure the university’s services are good for those who will receive them.

“I think we’re overlooking the sacrifices and trauma of the young people who couldn’t be there to cut that ribbon yesterday,” said Seals, a member of the U of C medicine’s Community Advisory Council. “This is a great step in helping to further the study of trauma, but I hope that the focus isn’t just on the physical trauma people face, but on the toll it can take.”

Right now, many trauma patients are sent to Northwestern Memorial Hospital downtown. The new emergency department will be the first adult trauma care center on the South Side since Michael Reese Hospital closed in 1991.

The university’s new emergency department – slated to open on Dec. 29 – is part of a broader $269 million plan to treat critically ill patients. Another part of that plan — a Level 1 adult trauma center — isn’t set to open until May 2018.

Jawanza Malone, executive director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization and a member of the community advisory council, said the university will need to continue to engage with residents and provide resources for both the physical and emotional trauma people “carry after injuries.”

“We have a warped view of what healing is in our society,” Malone said. “The university doesn’t have to take full responsibility for helping people after trauma, but they have the resources to make sure people can move on from traumatic incidents.”

The expansion of the U of C’s medical department will make it a “primary entry point for trauma patients, who must be stabilized before being moved to other areas of the medical center for additional medical care,” Kenneth Polonsky, U of C’s dean and executive vice president of medical affairs, said in a statement.

“This facility is central to UChicago Medicine’s bold plan, which we announced in February 2016, to ensure the community has access to high-quality health care, including adult trauma services,” Polonsky said.

Seals said the department opening is a good step, but he hopes the university continues to provide resources to address all aspects of trauma to help people live fuller lives.

“The cost we’re paying for the center and this department pales in comparison to what has already been paid to get it,” Seals said.

“I can’t help but think that if we’d had this earlier more people would have survived, they wouldn’t have had to bleed to death.”

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