Call it a victory for grassroots power.
Without it, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the University of Chicago Medical Center would now be designated as a Level 1 adult trauma center. Without it, the first patient, brought in by ambulance around noon on Tuesday, would have been sent miles away.
That’s been the norm for three decades, ever since the U. of C., followed soon by Michael Reese Hospital, withdrew from the state’s trauma network and left a large swath of the South Side without a hospital equipped to handle patients with life-threatening injuries from gun violence, car crashes, fires and the like.
It goes without saying that 30 years was far too long for South Side residents to wait for a level of care that other parts of town already had. It’s almost criminal that in a life-or-death situation, when minutes count, critically injured people had to be transported nearly 10 miles to get that care.
Thankfully, that won’t be the norm anymore.
The activists who spent years pressuring the U. of C. to do the right thing can celebrate. So can Chicagoans who live south of 15th Street and east of Western Avenue, the area that the trauma center will serve. So should the university, which has pledged to go beyond trauma care and address gun violence prevention and other pressing health issues in the surrounding impoverished neighborhoods.
Everyday people from those neighborhoods set the change firmly in motion back in 2011, when they camped overnight on a sidewalk outside the hospital in remembrance of 18-year-old Damian Turner, who’d been shot just blocks away the year before. Turner didn’t survive the trip to Northwestern Hospital.
That small protest, led by a grassroots youth group that Turner helped found, was just the beginning. The campaign gathered steam and more allies. Eventually, the university couldn’t ignore the momentum.
Would Turner, and others since his death, be alive today if the South Side had a trauma center before now? No one can say for sure, though we sympathize with family and friends who believe so.
We can say this: More people now have a better chance.
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