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Officials defend lack of trauma center, tout UCMC’s offerings

A discussion organized by U of C Medical School students allowed hospital officials to discuss recent criticism of the UCMC.

Health professionals from the University of Chicago Hospitals convened on Tuesday at the BSLC to discuss the state of emergency rooms at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) during the Urban Health Initiative and the hotly debated absence of a trauma center.

Carolyn Wilson, chief operating officer of the University of Chicago Hospitals, and Dr. Linda Druelinger, co-chief of the Section of Emergency Medicine, spoke about UCMC emergency room policies during the discussion, which the American Medical Students Association (AMSA) and the Emergency Medicine Interest Group (EMIG) partnered to present.

The discussion was a response to recent protests and debates within the local community over the lack of a level-one trauma centers on the South Side. Activist groups like Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY) have staged die-ins and mock funerals on campus.

UCMC spokesperson John Easton defended the hospital’s 1988 decision to close its level-one adult trauma center in an e-mail. As an academic medical center, Easton wrote, the UCMC has to focus not only on providing clinical care for the community, but also on educating medical students and conducting research.

“Trauma care is only one of many urgent needs, and it cannot be addressed in isolation, at the expense of other life-saving services; it is also a regional issue, and cannot be solved by one institution in an area that has watched many of its key hospitals close in recent decades,” Easton wrote.

First-year medical student Emily Lu, one of the event’s organizers, began plans for the discussion after she attended a required class on health policy.

Lu, who is the community health chair of the U of C chapter of the AMSA, described the event as a town hall–style discussion, with audience members and guest speakers participating.

“It was really nice to hear about the issue from the leaders of the hospitals themselves,” Lu said. “None of us really went into the meeting with a negative attitude [despite recent protests], we just wanted to learn the whole story, and have the information to develop our own opinions.”

First-year Medical student Hannah Snyder felt the talk allowed students to understand the UCMC administration’s stance. “I hate ‘The Man’ a little less now,” she said.

As part of the talk, the speakers claimed that there is no legal need for a trauma center. A Trauma Center Facts Sheet, provided by Easton, reads: “Illinois has the best access to trauma care of any Midwestern state and Chicago has more level-one trauma centers than any other region of Illinois—four for adults and four for children.”

Lu said that “it’s pretty important to realize all that’s going on with the balancing act of a hospital—there are trade-offs and different goals; it’s not just about the trauma center.”

  • Matt

    I think it is too bad that the organizers of this event didn’t invite any of the community members raising this issue to participate in this event. The U of C Medical Center is spending thousands on a well-crafted PR strategy to spin its refusal to address community concerns in a forthright, honest and productive way into a generous institution doing its best to handle the overwhelming disparity in Chicago’s health services.

    In fact, when Mr. Easton and others refer to other services that are important such as their burn unit as the services that would have to be cut to open a trauma unit, they are committing outright deception. They get high reimbursement rates off of those services, which is the real reason they keep them but do not have a trauma center. Perhaps the trade off could be some of their Chief Financial Officer’s $2million salary, part of the millions of dollars spent on inflated top-adiministrators’ salaries or part of the massive PR budget being used to improve the institution’s tarnished image. Or perhaps they could fundraise to make it happen as they have been so successfully able to do when it comes to, for example, the $700+ million research building they are building.

    As for the number of trauma units in Chicago being high compared to the rest of Illinois, please, UCMC, don’t insult the public’s intelligence. The population of Chicago is far higher than anywhere else in Illinois, of course there are more trauma units. What we need to look at is the incidence of piercing wounds and other trauma where transport time makes a big difference to the probability of mortality, and compare that proportion to the relative density of available trauma care. That yields a very different story.

    Is the UCMC solely responsible for the south side’s lack of trauma care? Perhaps not. But it IS the south side hospital with by far the largest budget, the largest amount of tax subsidies, and the most capacity for hosting a level 1 trauma center. If the UCMC wants to open a level 1 trauma center, they can, it is a question of will, not ability, and what hangs in the balance are the lives of thousands on the south side currently living in a trauma center desert where trauma cases are disproportionately high but trauma care is disproportionately far.

  • Chris

    I have only been involved with the fight for the south side trauma center superficially. I am no expert on this topic. However, it is clear to even me that the naivety of the UCMC spokesperson and the community health chair of the AMSA is laughable.

    Easton permitted the negligent behavior of UofC by feigning interest in the holistic health treatment of the community–ie a trauma center is one facet of health care. Health care, undoubtedly, demands a type of vertical integration. This complexity, however, doesn’t give UofC a pass to evade any responsibility to the community–perhaps they should have thought about this before getting involved in health care. Moreover, Easton clearly lacks the social nuisance and political savvy (probably intentionally) to realize that this is an issue concerning the lack of fiscal responsibility to the community, not a lack of funding or complexity of health care. In fact, it is quite simple: UofC has the money to build trauma centers, as well as a whole host of necessary health and nutrition centers across the south side to solve that problem of providing holistic health care. They don’t, however, because they are more concerned with social prestige and money than social responsibility, plain and simple.

    Now, Emily Lu was even more ridiculous. It seemed she was more influenced by her adolescent days, superimposing her teenage angst and rebellion and against ‘the man’ on top of a serious battle between a community that has a simple demand and a formal organization that is hell bent on neglecting them. If Lu had taken a moment to research the fight for the trauma center, it have become quite apparent that the tragic loss of Damian Turner, who was shot three blocks from UofC and taken 10 miles to a trauma center, sparked this campaign, not a need to fight ‘the man’ and rebel for rebellions sake.