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Activists Renew Call for Level 1 Trauma Center at University of Chicago

University of Chicago hospital officials met Tuesday with community members, U. of C. staff and others who want a Level 1 trauma center for adults on the Hyde Park campus.

Members of an activist group that has held numerous protests, including a recent sit-in that resulted in four arrests, again made a plea for U. of C. Medical Center to reopen a trauma center that was closed in 1988 - so that the South Side will have at least one trauma center closer than 10 miles away. The U. of C. medical center admits trauma victims only up to age 16.

"It is your job to provide treatment, especially since you sit right in our community," Victoria Crider, a member of Fearless Leading by the Youth, told the U. of C. executive vice president of medical affairs.

She and others noted that a Northwestern University study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that those shot more than five miles from a trauma center in Chicago had a higher risk of dying.

Dr. Kenneth Polonsky, executive vice president for medical affairs, dean of division of the biological sciences and dean of the Pritzker School of Medicine, told the audience he was "not saying there shouldn't be a Level 1 trauma center."

"What I'm saying is that if a Level 1 trauma center is needed, it will need to be at another hospital," he said.

"The issue is that we are overwhelmed with patients at the moment. We are at capacity," he said. "And if we are to undertake the responsibility of a Level 1 trauma center, it's going to be instead of other things that we will not be able to do. Our record of providing care for poor and underserved people in the community, I would say, is second to none when compared to our peer institute."

Polonsky noted that the newly built $700 million hospital means that South Siders now have a world-class facility with the most up-to-date resources.

Residents of the South Side live in Chicago's only neighborhoods that are 10 miles or more from a hospital with a Level 1 trauma unit equipped to care for those critically injured, for example, in a shooting or car wreck.

It has been that way since 1989, when the university and Michael Reese Hospital closed their trauma centers.

The May 7 death of Kevin Ambrose, 19, who was shot blocks away from the university but was taken to Stroger Hospital and died, renewed the outcry about the lack of an adult trauma center, the protesters said. A similar case happened in 2010, when Damian Turner, 18, was shot and died.

It is not known whether Ambrose or Turner would have survived if they had been taken to a closer hospital. But Ambrose's friend, Michael Dye, thinks Ambrose would have lived. "Kevin died, of course, because he got shot, but also because he had to take that long ride," said Dye, who was riding in a car behind the ambulance carrying his friend.

A former nurse at the U. of C. Medical Center argued that the hospital should do more to help other smaller South Side hospitals become first-class hospitals. But the overall problem is "not a University of Chicago problem."

"In my mind, the forum should actually be panelists that include not just University of Chicago, but University of Chicago, aldermen, a representative of the mayor's office, a representative from the county, representatives from the student organizations that were here," said Tanya Bennett, 44. "That's the only way we're going to get it" resolved.



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