Activists revel as Trauma Center opens

Staff Writer

The University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) Level 1 Trauma Center, after much public pressure and controversy opened last week.

“We have re-established an adult trauma program that adds to our pediatric trauma and burn services, thereby providing the community a comprehensive system of care to treat the full range of trauma injuries in patients of all ages,” said Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs Kenneth S. Polonsky in an email to the U. of C. medical community. He said the first patient arrived by ambulance around noon on Tuesday, May 1.

According to a medical center spokeswoman, the trauma center is projected to serve 2,000 adult patients a year, though she cautioned that the estimate was imprecise. Staff from around two dozen departments, sections and work units at the hospital worked to open the center, which is projected to incur $48 million in operating expenses per year.

A coalition of community organizations and activists pushed for the trauma center through meetngs and protest demonstrations over severa years.

Pastor Julian DeShazier of University Church, 5655 S. University Ave., said his congregation brought activists and community members together with the U. of C. administration for community dialogue at “a critical moment,” and that his church also hosted a series of one-on-one meetings between the Coalition and the University.

“I’m excited for the community that is most affected by these issues, that they will have adequate access to trauma care like everyone else in the city,” said DeShazier. “It’s a matter of justice. And I’m also excited that the University has chosen to give themselves to the community in this way.”

He said, “Ultimately, this is about what these organizers have done, with their tenacious focus on access to health care. They never stopped pushing on that.”

Marla Bramble, associate director and director of organizing for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA), a member of the Trauma Care Coalition, said they played a supporting role to show the U. of C. that people across Chicagoland cared about the center.

“The real issue was healthcare inequality and disparity of access for different groups of people based largely on race and class,” said Bramble. “Working on the trauma center was a critical campaign for the Hyde Park community, and for the University to recognize the power of longtime black residents led by community youth whose leadership developed the campaign and really brought pressure onto the University.”

South Shore resident Tweak Harris, a volunteer with Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), worked as an energizer, chant-leader and participated in the street marching team. She said her activism was prompted by the disconnect between the U. of C.’s wealth and the distance injured South Siders had to travel for trauma care.

There were times Harris wanted to give up over the course of the campaign’s five years. “Why we won” however, “is that we had the people power. We had the determination, and we never quit.”

“A Level 1 trauma center wouldn’t be here on the South Side of Chicago if it wasn’t for a group of black kids in Woodlawn,” Harris said.