UCMC Trauma Center

Chronic illness has taken the backseat in trauma center debate

By Brandon Lee | Produced by Forrest Sill | April 21, 2015

Marta Bakula/Chicago Maroon

The debate over whether the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) should open an adult, Level I trauma center (T1) has divided campus and the Hyde Park community.

Community and student group demands have been framed in opposition to the administration. Few know the history of UCMC’s decision to close their adult trauma center and South Side health concerns. Many believe the UCMC has forgone a moral obligation to open a trauma center. However, some respond that UCMC lack the funds to support such an endeavor, as it provides a substantial amount of care to underinsured, south side residents.

The Health Problems of the South Side.

THE MAROON asked Pritzker Associate Dean of Students, Dr. Jim Woodruff, about the most pressing South Side health concerns. Arriving to UCMC over 20 years ago, Dr. Woodruff is a general medicine physician and has practiced at the community health clinic branch in Englewood.

Woodruff highlighted the importance of understanding that trauma does pose a significant burden on the South Side. “As a primary care doctor, I am confronted with patients who have been victims of trauma and are often disabled because of their encounters,” Woodruff said.

However, they may not be the biggest killers hospitals like UCMC have to manage, despite overwhelming press coverage. “In terms of the actual numbers of people affected by these issues, the burden of chronic medical disease far outweighs the issue of violent trauma here on the South Side of Chicago…but I don’t understand why pressing issues such as these chronic medical conditions don’t receive as much attention in the press.”

Chronic issues such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and their sequelae, including congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, end-stage renal disease requiring dialysis, were several diseases that Dr. Woodruff believes do not garner enough attention.

“[These diseases] are associated with levels of disability and other measures of health that in many of the neighborhoods in the south side compare to third-world nations, yet, these are issues that are not talked about as frequently as they should be in the press,” Woodruff said.

4th year Pritzker Medical Student, and President of Medical Students for Health Equity (M-SHE), Abdullah Pratt, corroborated Dr. Woodruff’s assessment. Pratt spent much of his childhood in the Woodlawn area, and is no stranger to the burden of violence, having witnessed the death of his brother on the South Side. “If you were to brand the South Side of Chicago, it would be ‘gun-violence and crime,’” Pratt said. He believes that UCMC should eventually open an adult level 1 Trauma Center (T1), as the main hospitals which have perfected trauma treatment are within the county system.

Yet, he states that chronic care is still the surpassing medical priority. Because many of Chicago’s lower income residents live in the South Side, conditions such as diabetes, asthma and heart attack are, to Pratt, of paramount medical importance. “I think the average person would say trauma because of the news,” Pratt said. “The dialysis center looks like a waiting line for free food in a depression. But, you don’t see ’55 year old man died from complications of kidney disease’ on the news”.

2012 PRC Community Health Needs Assessment Report, UCMC Service Area
Source: Chicago Department of Public Health’s Healthy Chicago Reports: Leading Causes of Death in Chicago, 2007-2009. Released September 2013. Percent Distribution of the 10 leading causes of death by race-ethnicity, Chicago, 2009
Percent Distribution of the 10 leading causes of death by race-ethnicity, Chicago, 2009
Source: 2012 PRC Community Health Needs Assessment Report, UCMC Service Area. **denotes values taken for Cook County and not the whole city of Chicago. The South Side is part of the Cook County System.

Shiro Wachira, an organizer for Students for Health Equity (SHE) and 3rd year at the College, chronic care concerns should not overshadow south side youth health emergencies. She states that violence in the South Side is particularly concentrated within younger demographics. “[Gun-shot violence] is the number one cause of death, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, for people aged 18-24 on the south side” Wachira said.

Leading causes of death among non-Hispanic blacks and whites 15-24 years old.
Chicago Department of Public Health’s Healthy Chicago Reports: Leading Causes of Death in Chicago, 2007-2009. Released September 2013.
Community Health Status Report 2010, IDPH Death Pull File 2000-2007
Chicago Department of Public Health’s Healthy Chicago Reports: Leading Causes of Death in Chicago, 2007-2009. Released September 2013.

However, she emphasized data isn’t the only way one should justify the building of a trauma center. “We try not to have a data driven campaign, because I feel like that reinforces an ideology that we don’t believe in” Wachira said. “That you can justify life by number…you can’t justify the value of a trauma center by looking at a balance sheet.” The availability of a trauma center is a way, she believes, UCMC can more effectively address South Side youth mortality.

Community Health Status Report 2010, IDPH Death Pull File 2000-2007
Source: Community Health Status Report 2010, IDPH Death Pull File 2000-2007
Community Health Status Report 2010, IDPH Death Pull File 2000-2007
Source: Community Health Status Report 2010, IDPH Death Pull File 2000-2007

Veronica Morris Moore, youth organizer for Fearless Leading By the Youth, was raised on the South Side and has witnessed the burden of poverty, drugs and gang violence. She said that violence provides a source of income and an avenue for the most basic needs to many black youth. “We don’t make that choice to grow up poor, to grow up around guns and drugs. And, we don’t have a whole lot of ability to change the circumstances,” she said. “If I take my little brother, for example, it was the way he put food in his mouth when my mom couldn’t. It was the way he put shoes on his feet.”

She emphasized violent trauma’s disproportionate affect on black youth deserves recognition. “It needs to be seen as a health epidemic in relation to young black people” Moore said. “Those of us who come from these neighborhoods need to be taken into account…even more so over these numbers.” To her, the push for a Trauma Center and the utilization of direct action, are fueled by the collective feeling that the lives of black youth have been neglected.

“It’s not the fact that [violence] is killing off hundreds of people. It’s the people that it’s killing off, and that’s why it’s not important [to UCMC]” Moore said. “Are our lives not worth saving?”

An upcoming edition of the Maroon will address proposed solutions to the South Side trauma desert.