Trauma center drama trumps Obama

By Editorial Board

In light of the University of Chicago’s bid for the Barack Obama Presidential Library, some South Side residents and community organizers have opted to use the bid as a platform to discuss the area’s deafening lack of an adult trauma center. Protesters chant “No trauma, no ‘bama,” demanding the university reopen its Level 1 trauma center rather than pursue a presidential library. 

U of C’s Medical Center closed its adult trauma center in 1988 after reallocating its funds to other specialties, according to an October 2014 U of C Medicine press release. U of C has since provided the surrounding community and city with a burn unit, neonatal intensive care unit and emergency helicopter services, but the closing of the trauma center further disenfranchised a part of the city rife with gun violence. 

Although the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Jan. 2 Trauma Center Feasibility Study suggested that U of C is the only medical center on the South Side with the resources to support a Level 1 adult trauma center, it is not the university’s responsibility to open one. 

It is undeniable that the South Side is in dire need of a Level 1 trauma center, but to put the weight of such a venture on the university—a nonprofit that already contributes to the welfare of its community—is unfair. Mayor Rahm Emanuel—whose desperate attempts at land grabs in order to acquire the presidential library are reprehensible—should be taking on the work and responsibility of meeting the area’s need for trauma care.

U of C should not be burdened with the cost—an annual average of $20 million, according to a 2009 National Center for Biotechnology Information study—of running and maintaining a trauma center that it does not want in the first place. One of the main reasons U of C shuttered its trauma center in 1988 was because of the financial hardships the center placed on the university.

Trauma centers offer specialty services that typical emergency rooms do not. Gunshot and car accident victims are treated in Level 1 trauma centers because these types of centers are equipped with the doctors trained to deal with such cases, according to the Trauma Center Feasibility Study. U of C’s Medical Center is only able to handle pediatric trauma cases, so adult South Side trauma victims are transported to North Side hospitals. The average time it takes an ambulance to transport South Side trauma victims to the necessary facilities sits well above 15 minutes, according to a 2011 WBEZ 91.5 data collection. Unfortunately, those 15–20 minutes can often mean life or death.

The distance and time it takes to transport patients from the South Side is one of the main points of contention for those protesting U of C’s presidential library bid. While it may seem misguided that the university is bidding for a library when the area it resides within so desperately needs the trauma center, the city and state governments are the ones that should be making strides to better provide for their communities. The university has different priorities to focus on such as expanding the Medical Center’s specialty clinics.

It is up to our city’s leadership to take a stand for those who are in need and provide the money and resources that a trauma center demands. The need for an adult trauma center is evident, but the city’s need for more parks and a fancy library is not. It is time to invest in the things that will truly give back to the city and its people. It is not time to invest in things that make it pretty and enticing for tourists.