May 13, 2014

Trauma center campaigners barred from praying in hospital

A weekly prayer circle associated with the Trauma Center Coalition (TCC) at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) has recently been barred from meeting in the UCMC. The prayer circle is a part of TCC’s faith-based wing, which formed within the last year and recruits churches to the campaign.

The prayer circle prays for the establishment of a Level I trauma center at the UCMC on Fridays at 5 p.m. in the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine (DCAM) lobby. The group has met since January, according to third-year Students for Health Equity (SHE) member Azeem Ahmad.

“There’s a few members of our group who come from a strong faith background, and they really started this out as a way to personally express their prayerful wishes. It wasn’t political at the outset at all,” he said.

Lorna Wong, executive director of strategic communications for UCMC, said she was unaware the group met and called the prayers a form of protest.

“No one knew of this group’s claim about these protests allegedly occurring for the last four months,” she wrote in an e-mail.

TCC is composed of Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, SHE, and the Coalition for Community Benefits. The faith-based wing of the advocacy group began about a year ago, according to Johnny Kline, minister for social justice at University Church.

The faith-based wing represents the churches that have formally supported the TCC. Kline said that the official collaboration of the University Church and Kenwood United Church of Christ (UCC) began after conversations between himself, Alice Harper of Kenwood UCC, SHE, and FLY.

“We invited FLY and SHE to come into our congregations, so they made a presentation at University Church, they made a presentation at Kenwood UCC, and those presentations led to the board at each of those churches making a decision to offer the Church’s resources, the Church’s support, to the campaign in an official way,” he said.

Since those churches committed to TCC, another one, Good Shepherd in Englewood, has followed, and the coalition is in conversations with other churches as well. The coalition has also received support from well-known priests Senior Pastor Michael L. Pfleger of Saint Sabrina’s Church on 78th Place and Reverend Doctor Otis Moss III at Trinity Church on West 95th Street.

The group was first asked to leave  on April 26, according to Ahmad. He said the group usually tells people in the lobby they are going to form a prayer circle and carries flyers to inform people that they are praying for a trauma center. On that date, he said, a security officer joined the prayer circle and saw the group’s flyers.

“He was standing there with us, and he looked down and saw that it said, ‘Prayers for a trauma center,’ and my impression of it was that was when he made the decision of, ‘Oh, you guys need to get out of here,’” Ahmad said.

On May 3, the group returned with more people and was told to leave and threatened with arrest, according to Ahmad. On May 9, Deans-on-Call Lynda Daher and Vicki Sides met the group as it entered the DCAM entryway and asked them to leave and pray outside.

UCMC contacted the deans-on-call, according to University News Director Jeremy Manier.

“Hospital security staff formally requested to have Deans-on-Call present on Friday, and at other vigils going forward,” he wrote in an e-mail. “This approach to protest activity is a result of years of thoughtful dialogue on campus, including the January 2014 Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Protest and Dissent, which emphasized the role of Deans-on-Call,” he added.

Because the hospital is private property, only individuals with “official business” have the right to enter, Daher said during the conversation with TCC.

“We just want this to be as successful as possible, and the best way to ensure that success would be if you would pray outside by the planters,” she told the group.

The group said a quick prayer inside the vestibule after debating with the deans-on-call and security, then left and said a longer prayer outside. Several group members had remained outside the entire time, not wanting to risk the possibility of arrest. A group member who tried to film the encounter was told to stop by hospital security.

The deans-on-call and UCMC spokeswoman both emphasized the importance of keeping space clear for patient care.

“Any action, protest, or dissent on medical center property cannot, even potentially, interfere with patient care or hospital operations. In addition, videotaping or photographing on hospital premises poses a threat to patient privacy,” Wong wrote in an e-mail.

Ahmad said that the political dimension of the prayer circle has changed in recent weeks.

“I’d say at this point [the prayer circle] has been forced into a political sphere just because of how aggressively they’re shutting it down and why they’re shutting it down,” he said.