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The Fight for Health Care Continues: This Time on the South Side

Photo by: Taylor Scheibe

If you are shot on Chicago’s South Side you are 21 percent more likely to die before you reach a hospital trauma center, a panel of doctors, nurses and researchers told legislators during a state hearing Tuesday.

The hearing, called by state Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago), was set to discuss “Trauma Deserts,” a study by Dr. Marie Crandall of Northwestern Memorial Hospital outlining the geographic disparity in trauma care in Chicago.  It appeared in the American Journal of Public Health in June and shows a relationship between mortality rates and travel times — if a gunshot victim has to travel more than five miles to a trauma center, the person is 21 percent more likely to die on the way.

“Where have you all been? We’ve been yelling about this for a very long time and nobody has stepped forward to try and do anything about it,” said Dr. Gary Merlotti, chairman of the Department of Surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital to legislators.

Many of those who attended the hearing at 160 N. LaSalle St., were community leaders, students, nurses and doctors that have been advocating for the center for almost three years.

This summer gun violence surged, according to statistics from the Chicago Police Department. Much of the violence was concentrated on the city’s South and West Sides.

The University of Chicago Medical Center at 5841 S. Maryland Ave, is the only trauma center on the South Side but it serves only children ages 16 and under.

“You turn 16 and that’s it,” said Dr. Philip Verhoef of the University of Chicago Hospital.

Verhoef listed the city’s other trauma centers, including Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, Advocate Christ Medical Center, Children’s Memorial Hospital and the closest to the South Side, John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, at 1969 W. Ogden Ave.

University of Chicago student Joe Kaplan, upon learning his age disqualified him from receiving care at his university’s trauma care center, said: “It really worries me. With the other students, a lot of them don’t realize this affects them. It’s not something the university advertises.”

Traumatic injury is the leading cause of death in the United States among individuals ages 1 through 44, according to the study, which used 19 years of death from gunshot wound and ambulance transit time data from 1999-2009. The first trauma center in Chicago was opened at the Cook County Hospital in the mid-1960’s, according to a study conducted by WBEZ.

Unfortunately, a trauma center is “a tremendous money-losing venture,” said Verhoef. The total cost of a fully staffed trauma center is approximately $2.7 million each year, according to a study conducted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

The hearing was only the first of many, said Hunter. Community leaders are asking the Department of Public Health to study the feasibility of a new trauma center on the South Side. They are also asking the University of Chicago to raise the age limit on their children’s trauma center from 16 to 21.

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