City takes up trauma center crisis

By Darryl Holliday

After public outcry from residents, Chicago aldermen introduced a resolution on Nov. 3, that urges public health officials to address the lack of trauma care on Chicago’s South Side.

The resolution, sponsored by Alderman Willie Cochran (20th Ward) and others, calls for the city’s Committee on Health to take public comment and testimony from the Chicago Department of Public Health and other sources addressing the need for more comprehensive health care in the city.

According to Tim Hadac, spokesman for the Department of Public Health, the department is supportive of whatever it takes to ensure appropriate levels of trauma care for all neighborhoods in the city. The Illinois Department of Health could not be reached, as of press time.

“The objective of the meeting will be to try and find some way to achieve the goal—and that’s to see if you can get trauma centers in the hospitals,” said Alderman Ed Smith (28th Ward), chairman of the Committee on Health. “Everybody would be talking about that. You try to bring people in from various hospitals to say what their problem is and what’s the barricade.”

According to Smith, that barricade is likely money, or a lack thereof. The high costs of operating a trauma center, along with the typically high volume of patients, are largely responsible for the closing of trauma centers nationwide.

The now defunct Michael Reese Hospital, which withdrew from the trauma network in 1990, was the last hospital to offer trauma care to the South Side, leaving residents without a trauma center.

Defined as the highest degree of surgical care for trauma patients, Level 1—followed by Level 2 and 3—trauma centers are medically specialized and provide immediate care to seriously injured people.

Of the four trauma centers for adults in the city, Advocate Illinois Masonic Hospital, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital Medical Center and the John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County—none are located south of 15th Street and east of

Western Avenue.

Columbia is well-covered by its close proximity to two trauma centers, both the John H. Stroger, Jr. hospital and Northwestern Memorial are less than a three mile drive away.

However, several areas on the South Side, some of which experience a high volume of gang and gun violence, have no access to immediate Level 1 trauma care and victims are frequently transported by ambulance to trauma centers miles away; In some cases an extra 15–20 minutes of travel time may be required to reach a Level 1 trauma center.

Some city residents say this was precisely the case when 18-year-old Damian Turner was fatally shot on Aug. 14 four blocks from the University of Chicago Medical Center, which ceased providing adult trauma care in the South Side in 1988.

Despite his proximity to a hospital, paramedics were forced to transport Turner to Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s trauma center approximately nine miles away because of the severity of his injuries.

Though it is not certain whether Turner would have lived if a trauma center was closer, a Level 1 trauma center on the South Side may have improved his odds.

“If you look at the statistics and research, the faster you get to a trauma center the better,” said Tom Grawey, a first-year medical student at Midwestern University and former EMT-basic on the city’s Southeast Side. “Trauma centers offer faster

definitive care.”

Trauma, a blunt force or penetrating physical injury requiring surgery or other specialized care, is the leading cause of death in children, youth and adults under the age of 45, according to the Trauma Center Association for America.

“In medicine, time is everything,” Grawey said. “When it comes to trauma, [emergency health professionals] refer to the ‘golden hour,’ which says the trauma patient should be in the operating room within an hour of an accident occurring.”

According to Grawey, when it comes to areas without a trauma center, a seriously injured patient may have well surpassed the golden hour by the time he or she reaches a trauma center located miles away.

Less than 10 percent of hospitals have a trauma center, according to the Trauma Center Association of America. When joined within trauma systems, centers can coordinate of various health resources, including ambulances and helicopters, to provide life-threatened individuals with 24-hour care for the most severe injuries.

The Council resolution seeks to “investigate ways to establish more adult trauma centers within the city limits, especially on

the South Side,” in large part because of public outcry about Turner’s death and a demand for better health care systems in the city.

Though Smith said he could not give a knowledgeable response as to how city residents are affected by the lack of trauma care on the South Side, he said the proposed meeting will explore ways to move forward.

“It will involve people we invite from the health community to talk about the issues,” Smith said.