October 3, 2010

Activist's death sparks UCMC protests

Over one hundred protesters demanded the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) reinstate its trauma center on Tuesday, spurred by the death of 18-year-old community youth activist Damian Turner.

Turner was shot in August on 61st Street and Cottage Grove, three blocks away from the UCMC, but was driven in an ambulance to Northwestern Memorial Hospital because the UCMC does not have a level one trauma center that handles severe cases.

The protesters held a press conference at 58th Street and Maryland, outside the hospital. Friends shared memories of Turner and read a letter they gave to UCMC spokesman John Easton. Easton said he would deliver the letter to Medical Center administration and help schedule a meeting between protesters and administrators. The letter demanded the UCMC provide trauma care, which includes caring for life-threatening injuries, such as gunshots.

The letter referenced ongoing concerns about the Urban Health Initiative, which diverts underinsured patients to neighborhood clinics for care. “At the same time as your hospital is embarking on a multi-million research pavilion to treat complex diseases and surgeries, there seem to be no plans to develop the resources to treat the hundreds of Southsiders dying from gun violence,” it read.

After Turner was shot, at 12:08 am, an ambulance picked up Turner and brought him to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. According to his mother, Sheila Rush, the ambulance ride to the hospital was 27 minutes long. She believes he may have survived had he been able to receive care more quickly, at the UCMC.

The state’s standard is that a level one trauma center be within 30 minutes of transportation. Chicago has four level one trauma centers in the city and four in the suburbs; no South Side hospitals have a trauma center.

The UCMC trauma center operated for two years, but closed in 1988, according to a statement issued by the UCMC Tuesday, because an “unanticipated volume of trauma cases, however, made it difficult for the Medical Center to continue to perform its core clinical mission,” and impeded on the center’s ability to focus on its mission of working on the most complex and difficult cases.

The UCMC does have a children’s trauma center, which cares for 400-500 cases a year, but Turner was two years too old to be admitted to the children’s unit.

Turner, who got involved in community activism when he was 13, founded the student activist group Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY) and was an active participant in Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP).

Rush said one of the projects he had planned was to advocate for the reinstatement of the trauma center at the UCMC. She organized the rally, along with his peers from FLY, on his birthday. “This was actually one of Damian’s ideas,” she said. “My son is a victim. This is the best time to do it.”

Latanya Foster, a friend of Turner’s, attended the rally in support of her brother, Deandre Foster, as well as Turner. She said her brother was shot at 60th Street and Cottage Grove last Wednesday, and was brought to Cook County Hospital nine miles away. “We need this trauma center,” she said.

Reverend Andre Smith led a prayer at the press conference. “This hospital sits in the community and does not serve the community,” he said. “The bloodshed,” he said, referring to the high incidence of shootings on the South Side, “is on their hands.”

Fifth-year history graduate student and former graduate liaison to the Board of Trustees Toussaint Losier met Turner in his second year of graduate school because FLY was organizing to improve juvenile detention centers, work that related to Losier’s dissertation.

Losier was one of only a handful of U of C students participating in the rally. He thought there might have been less student involvement than usual because the organizing took place during the summer and was done mostly in person among Turner’s friends and neighbors.

“It wasn’t done in a way that would have reached a lot of University of Chicago students,” Losier said. But, he added, “it’s also true that oftentimes there aren’t that many student groups that have a pulse on what are some of the major issues that neighborhood groups are concerned about.”

Losier said he believed the UCMC could bring a trauma center back to the hospital if it decided to focus resources on community care. “The University is capable of moving very quickly and with a lot of resources on issues that are of significant concern to it,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s a serious issue for the University, but it does seem like it’s a serious issue for the folks who were there on Tuesday and other folks I’ve talked to. I don’t necessarily think that whatever happens on Tuesday is going to completely sway the University in a different direction,” Losier said.