UCMC Takes Steps Toward Trauma Center

The proposal includes new trauma and cancer centers.

Last week, University of Chicago Medicine announced that it has submitted for state approval a $269 million proposal to build a Level I adult trauma center on campus, to expand and relocate its emergency room, and to convert Mitchell Hospital into a cancer hospital. UChicago Medicine expects the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board (IHFSRB) to hold a hearing on the plan in May.

In September, UChicago Medicine announced a $40 million investment in a joint plan with Sinai Health System to bring a Level I adult trauma center to Holy Cross Hospital, located at West 68th Street and South California Avenue. The announcement followed years of protests from the Trauma Center Coalition (TCC), which had urged the University to bring a Level I trauma center to the South Side since 2010.

In December, UChicago Medicine abandoned that plan, announcing a new proposal to bring an adult trauma center to its Hyde Park campus and to expand its emergency room.

UChicago Medicine’s most recent press release regarding its application to the IHFSRB indicates that the plan has since expanded even further to include a redesign of Mitchell Hospital, currently an adult inpatient care facility at 5841 South Maryland Avenue, into a dedicated cancer center. The press release pitches the three components of the expanded plan, dubbed “Get CARE,” as essential to giving South Side residents access to “integrated” specialty care.

“This Project has three related and interdependent components, each of which is necessary for the success of the other two,” reads UChicago Medicine’s certificate of need application to the IHFSRB.

Some critics are concerned that combining the trauma center proposal with the hospital’s broader plans for expansion will complicate the state approval process.

“I know we need more health care services on the South Side,” said Maria Schaps, executive director of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group in Chicago, in a February 18 Tribune article. “But every time you add a layer of complexity, you’re adding the potential for more questions.”

The new plan would add 188 inpatient beds, reduce wait times and the number of patients sent to other area hospitals, and create 1000 permanent positions and 400 temporary construction jobs, according to the most recent press release from the University. 

The proposed expansion would bring the number of inpatient beds maintained by UChicago Medicine up to 805, restoring the medical center to the size it was in the late 1970s, and bringing it closer to that of other area academic medical centers. Northwestern Medicine has 894 inpatient beds; Rush University Medical Center has 731.

In a recent press release, President of the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) Sharon O’Keefe said that the new plan will address the medical center’s high rate of occupancy.

“Get CARE is a plan to reduce the disparities that exist in access to critical care on the South Side and address the severe capacity constraints our medical center faces,” O’Keefe said. “For 310 days last year, our hospital was so full that we were forced to turn some patients away, while others endured longer-than-acceptable wait times. We must address these capacity constraints to provide the care our community and patients need.”

The medical center plans to shorten wait times by moving the ER closer to its Center for Care and Discovery, the 10-story hospital that opened in February 2013. The ER is currently located in Mitchell Hospital, an older building.

To pay for the proposals, the medical center would borrow $200 million in the form of bonds, and pay for the other $68.8 million with operating funds. According to a DNAinfo article, the new trauma services are expected to run up annual losses of $20 million. UChicago Medicine hopes to offset some of those losses by expanding its cancer care, a potentially lucrative venture.

“Clearly we’re not getting into the trauma business or expanding emergency medicine to make money,” O’Keefe told DNAinfo

UChicago Medicine views the transformation of Mitchell Hospital into a dedicated cancer facility as a move to cater to the specific medical needs of patients on the South Side.

“Patients on the South Side have unique health care needs. African-Americans suffer a higher incidence of certain types of cancer and higher mortality rates from cancer. The American Cancer Society attributes the higher mortality rates, in part, to a lack of access to quality, timely care,” UChicago Medicine said in an overview of its certificate of need application. 

Currently, South Side residents—who disproportionately suffer from injuries related to gun violence—in need of trauma care are typically either transported to Advocate Christ Medical Center’s trauma center in Oak Lawn or to Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s trauma center in Streeterville. According to a 2011 WBEZ report, it takes 17–19 minutes for an ambulance to take a patient from Hyde Park to an adult level I trauma center. If approved, South Side residents will have access to specialized trauma care at the UCMC.

If the IHFSRB approves the medical center’s certificate of need application, the project would be completed in early 2018.