University of Chicago Medicine breaks ground Thursday on a long-awaited new emergency department that will offer adult trauma care to a violence-besieged area devoid of one for 25 years.

The Level 1 adult trauma center, part of the hospital system’s $269 million expansion approved by the state in May, is expected to cost $39 million.

The 29,017-square-feet facility, expected to open in January 2018, will be 76 percent larger than the current ER on the Hyde Park campus. It’s projected to serve 2,700 adult trauma patients in its first full year of operation.

“From my vantage point, what’s most exciting about this is we were granted approval to redevelop our ER Department and expand it to accommodate the Level 1 trauma service in May of this year, and to be sitting here in September executing and beginning the build-out within four months of approval is reflective of the fact that we’re moving with a sense of urgency,” U. of C. Medical Center President Sharon O’Keefe told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday.

About 150 political, civic and grassroots leaders are expected to attend the Thursday morning ceremony. There has not been an adult trauma center on the South Side since Michael Reese Hospital closed in 1991.

The new ER 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 the U. of C. hospital and died during the 11-minute trip to Northwestern Memorial Hospital downtown.

Nursing station in the new Emergency Department. | Provided Rendering

Nursing station in the new Emergency Department Trauma Center. | Provided rendering

When completed, the new ER facility will have: 41 treatment stations; four trauma resuscitation bays; seven rapid assessment units; four psychiatric rooms; one bariatric room; dedicated imaging stations; and on-site biocontainment. Patients also will have more privacy, with separate rooms as opposed to curtained cubicles.

It’s part of the hospital’s Get CARE plan, the second-largest project in its history, which also includes expansion of its acute care beds and conversion of Bernard A. Mitchell Hospital into a new cancer care center. The entire $269 million plan is expected to create more than 1,000 permanent jobs and 400 construction jobs.

The new ER will complement existing pediatric trauma care services and the hospital’s Burn & Complex Wound Center. It is expected to reduce patient travel time to surgery by 50 percent. It currently takes 15 minutes to wheel a gurney from the ER through an underground tunnel and up an elevator to operating rooms in the Center for Care and Discovery. Now directly across from that center, the new ER will cut that time to only seven minutes.

Lobby in Emergency Department Trauma Center. | Provided rendering

Lobby in Emergency Department Trauma Center. | Provided rendering

Thursday is a day that activists who had organized as the Trauma Care Coalition have long waited for. Comprised of predominantly young people from the Woodlawn and Kenwood-Oakland neighborhoods, the coalition had for years pressured 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.

Initially resisting, U. of C. finally began working with the community for a resolution and has solidly bought into the mission.

From 2009 to 2016, adult ER visits at the hospital grew from 39,000 to more than 59,000. By 2021, U. of C. Medicine anticipates it will receive 86,000 patients a year.

University of Chicago Medicine is scheduled to break ground on its new emergency room/adult trauma center on Thursday. | Provided rendering

University of Chicago Medicine is scheduled to break ground on its new emergency room/adult trauma center on Thursday. | Provided rendering

Along with the build-out, the hospital has begun a national search for a chief of trauma services who will lead the new facility in a city currently gripped by out-of-control gun violence. Launched in June, the search has drawn tremendous response from across the country, O’Keefe said.

“We’re searching for a medical leader who will be an expert in this area, but because we also want to become part of the solution set for the public health issue around trauma and violence in our community, we’re looking for a leader who is not solely the outstanding clinician, but an individual who can work with all of our community partners and leaders on interventions that will reduce violent crime,” O’Keefe said.