Chicago activists in support of a South Side trauma center held a rally Tuesday to push back on the University of Chicago Medical Center's plans to open an outpatient facility in Orland Park. Progress Illinois was there for the action.
Activists fighting for an adult trauma center on Chicago's South Side are speaking out against the University of Chicago Medical Center's proposal to open a new, $66.9 million outpatient care facility in Orland Park.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, members of the Trauma Care Coalition, which is part of the push for a South Side trauma center, said the university should expand access to local emergency health services before opening a new suburban medical facility.
Chicago's South Side currently lacks an adult trauma center, which forces people with serious injuries to travel miles away to a hospital on the city's North or West Sides or the suburbs to seek medical care.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board is scheduled to consider the university's proposed Orland Park project on Wednesday. Under state law, medical centers have to get a certificate of need from the board in order to build or modify a health care facility.
Fifteen Trauma Care Coalition members are expected to attend the board's meeting to speak against the university's plan, which activists called a "ploy for profit."
"We think the University of Chicago is valuing profit ahead of caring for the people of the South Side, and we think this is wrong," said Joe Kaplan with the Trauma Care Coalition and Students for Health Equity, a group of University of Chicago students.
The University of Chicago Medical Center opened a Level 1 adult trauma center back in 1986, but closed it in 1988 for financial reasons. The university runs a trauma center for children at Comer Children’s Hospital, but it only accepts patients who are 15-years-old or younger.
"It's time for the university to take a stand," said Woodlawn resident Veronica Morris-Moore, a Trauma Care Coalition organizer. "Do they care about black lives, or do they not? Because we need a trauma center, and the $66.9 million hospital that they're planning on opening is more than double of what it would cost for them to open up a trauma center yearly."
University officials "keep saying it's a major undertaking to provide trauma care, but yet we see them continue to invest in these major developments that benefit the hospital and do not benefit the immediate community," she added.
Here's more from Morris-Moore:
The campaign for a South Side Level 1 adult trauma center launched in 2010 after 18-year-old student and youth activist Damian Turner was shot near the corner of 51st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, just a few blocks away from University of Chicago Hospital. Turner was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, located near the Loop, due to the absence of a nearby Level 1 trauma center, but he died an hour-and-a-half later. Activists with the Trauma Care Coalition believe Turner would have lived if there were an adult trauma ward nearby.
"What the university is doing is a moral injustice, and we're speaking out against it," Alice Harper-Jones, an associate pastor at Kenwood United Church of Christ, said at the news conference. Harper-Jones is among those traveling to Normal, Illinois tomorrow for the health board's meeting.
"The faith community is not pleased" with the university's proposal, she said. "God is not pleased, and we are not shutting up until something is done."
The University of Chicago Medical Center issued the following statement to Progress Illinois following the Trauma Care Coalition's news conference:
There is tremendous support for the University of Chicago Medicine’s proposed outpatient facility in Orland Park. In fact, we have already received 13 letters of support for our project — from physicians in the community, from patients we've treated who had to travel to the city from the Orland Park community regularly for treatment and from community leaders.
Moreover, there is a demonstrated need in the community. Research shows that by 2018, the greater Orland Park area will need 370 additional physicians and 413 exam rooms to keep pace with population growth and anticipated impact from the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, the University of Chicago Medicine (UCM) already has a strong patient-base in the area with approximately 122,000 outpatient visits in FY2013 coming from patients in the south suburbs. With this project, UCM would effectively bring our specialty services closer to home for thousands of current and prospective patients.
We remain deeply committed to our home and community on the South Side of Chicago. Our emergency rooms saw almost 47,000 adults and nearly 30,000 pediatric patients in the last fiscal year, and our burn unit treated about 300 patients, a third of whom came from the South Side. In addition, our Comer Children’s Hospital trauma center cared for 260 seriously injured children last year, and about 50 percent of our pediatric intensive care patients come from neighboring communities.
But we also believe all our patients deserve to have the chance to benefit from our expertise in treating very complex disorders, in their own communities.
Developing a Level 1 adult trauma center at UCM would be a massive undertaking requiring significant hospital and state approvals, resources and funding. A new adult trauma center at UCM could also negatively impact the nine other trauma centers already serving Cook County in terms of their funding and certification. These are complex issues that require every partner in the community coming together to find a solution.
If the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board approves the university's project, Morris-Moore said activists will continue their fight for a South Side trauma center.
Organizers, she added, will keep attention on the issue because, "This hospital is getting away, essentially, with murder by denying a community of poor, underserved, underprivileged people life-saving health services."