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Trauma care protesters claim ‘small victory,’ say South Side needs more

Sheila Rush has been fighting for an adult trauma center on the South Side for five years.

In August 2010, her 19-year-old son Damian Turner was shot in the back just blocks from the University of Chicago Medical Center — which doesn’t have an adult trauma center. He died after paramedics drove him nine miles away to a downtown hospital.

“He was breathing. He was alive, but when he got there, it was over with,” Rush said.

On Friday, she stood outside the Hyde Park hospital surrounded by members of the group she helped form — the Trauma Care Coalition — who held signs that read “Trauma Care Won.” The “Won” used to read “Now” on the group’s posterboards. On Friday, the word was flipped as a sign of victory.

The group of community activists from around the city is claiming a small victory — and hoping for more – after the Thursday night announcement that Sinai Health System and the U of C Medical Center will join forces to run a Level 1 Trauma Center at Holy Cross Hospital at 68th Street and California.

It will take close to two years before the center is up and running, but it will provide care to a much underserved population of the South Side.

Tentative plans include building a three-story building with imaging services, hospital beds and room for intensive care units. The emergency room at Holy Cross will be expanded and updated with new technology. And plans to rebuild and move the emergency room at U of C will continue but will now work cohesively with the Holy Cross Hospital plan, hospital officials say.

Mount Sinai will provide ER doctors, anesthesiologists, and nursing staff. And U of C will provide trauma, neurological, orthopedic specialists, along with plastic surgeons and urologists.

“What we’re accomplishing with the other physicians really provides a comprehensive trauma and emergency medicine care solution that crosses the broader geography that the two of us could possibly do in this part of the city,” said Dr. Douglas Dirschl, an orthopedic surgeon at U of C.

Karen Teitelbaum, CEO and President of Sinai Health System, told reporters on Friday that Sinai came up with the plan about four months ago. They quickly called the University of Chicago to gauge their interest, which agreed to the program and is footing the $40 million cost.

The Hyde Park hospital has been scrutinized by some groups for years for not providing trauma care for adults, despite having plenty of gun violence in its surrounding neighborhoods.

Teitelbaum said the new center will target a five-mile radius around Holy Cross Hospital, which “encompasses a big piece of trauma” in the city.

Sharon O’Keefe, U of C Medical Center President, said the hospital always knew of a need for more trauma care, and listened to those protesters.

“We have listened to the trauma protesters. And we actually share in the belief that there is a need for trauma services. The question all along has been how do you find the best approach in adding the service to the community,” O’Keefe said.

The Trauma Care Coalition is calling the new center a “small victory,” but will continue to fight for an increased age limit at the University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital, where the cut off age for trauma patients is 15.

U of C has submitted an application to the Illinois Department of Public Health seeking to increase the age to 17, but it’s unclear if those plans will be tossed in light of the new trauma center. O’Keefe told reporters the hospital will cooperate with regional trauma directors to come up with the best possible solution to serve patients on the South Side.

Increasing the age limit will save lives, the trauma protesters say, and they’ll continue to push for that.

“We should not let the University of Chicago renege on this age limit requirement. . . . If anything, we need to raise it to 21,” said Corey Mason, co-founder of the youth group FLY (Fearless Leading by the Youth.) “We’ll continue to fight to have a Level 1 Trauma Center in the Woodlawn community and closer on the South and Southeast sides of Chicago.”

Others are questioning why U of C didn’t choose to build the trauma center in Hyde Park, including Anna Nathanson, a University of Chicago student and member of Students for Health Equity.

“There are five North Side trauma centers and only one on the South Side,” Nathanson said, adding the city has a moral obligation for equitable distribution of care. She questioned why U of C is “sending their money to a different facility.”

“This is a good first step,” Nathanson said. “It’s not the end of this issue.”

The Holy Cross Hospital Emergency Room will be the site of a new Level 1 trauma center, operated as a joint venture by Holy Cross, Mt. Sinai and the University of Chicago hospitals. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

The Holy Cross Hospital Emergency Room will be the site of a new Level 1 trauma center, operated as a joint venture by Holy Cross, Mt. Sinai and the University of Chicago hospitals. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Karen Teitelbaum, president and CEO of Sinai Health Systems;  University of Chicago Medical Center President Sharon O'Keefe; and Dr. Douglas Dirschl, a U of C orthopedic surgeon, appeared at Friday'a announcement that a Level 1 Trauma Center would be built at Holy Cross Hospital.  | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Karen Teitelbaum, president and CEO of Sinai Health System; University of Chicago Medical Center President Sharon O’Keefe; and Dr. Douglas Dirschl, a U of C orthopedic surgeon, appeared at Friday’a announcement that a Level 1 Trauma Center would be built at Holy Cross Hospital. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times