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Lack of South Side Trauma Center May Cost ChicagoansâLives

Finally, some good news on homicides in Chicago. After a bloody 2012 that drew international attention for soaring gun rates and rising gang violence, homicides are down 34 percent from the same period in 2012. “Killings this year have dipped to a level not seen since the early 1960s,” reported The New York Times

As of Friday, June 14, at least 152 people were killed in Chicago so far in 2013, according to the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye. Police officials are touting the city’s aggressive new policing strategy in the city's most violent "hot zones,"  many of which are on the South Side, the historic home of the city’s Black community.

But does the lack of an adult trauma center on the South Side possibly contribute  to more deaths? Possibly. Chicago-area gunshot victims “who are shot more than five miles from a trauma center have a higher mortality rate,” according to a new study.

The study was published by the American Journal of Public Health. Dr. Marie Crandall, professor in surgery/trauma care at Northwestern University, analyzed 11,744 gunshot patients from 1999-2009, reports Chicago’s WBEZ Radio. “The data found 4,782 people were shot more than five miles from a trauma center. Those patients were disproportionately Black and less likely to be insured.”

 “That is the reality across the nation in urban Black populations,Glenn Ellis told EBONY.com. Ellis is the Philadelphia-based wellness writer and radio host, who often reports on healthy equity. “The less Black you are and the more insurance you have, the more are likely you are to live if you enter a Level 1 trauma center.”

A Level 1 trauma center “provides the highest level of trauma care”, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Level 1 trauma centers  can lower the risk of death by 25 percent.

There are seven trauma centers within the city limits...but unfortunately no South Side residents live within five miles of the city’s four Level 1 trauma centers. There is one pediatric trauma center on the South Side located at the University of Chicago Medical Center—which means that the many adult victims of gun violence must be transported up to 13 miles.

This happened to Damian Turner in August 2010. The 18-year-old activist was hit by a stray bullet only three  blocks from the university. Turner died in an ambulance enroute to a downtown trauma center almost  10 miles away.  Turner’s  case has mobilized activists across the city to pressure  UCMC to reopen the adult trauma center it closed 25 years ago. The hospital and university campus have been targeted by demonstrations that have lead to a number of arrests.

“There would be a trauma center if this were a predominately White neighborhood as opposed to it being a mostly Black and low-income neighborhood,” 20-year-old Veronica Morris-Moore told EBONY.com.  With escalating cases of gun violence on the city's South Side, Morris-Moore and other activists  say it is “offensive” that adult victims “must travel up to 30 minutes”  for trauma care.

 “I can’t say for certain that Damian’s life would have been saved,” adds Morris-Moore. “But the hospital was only three blocks away. I can’t help but believe it would have had some impact.”

The university trauma center closed in 1989 “after hemorrhaging $2 million a year. At the time doctors said a majority of patients had no health insurance,” reports WBEZ.

“The University of Chicago just opened a new $700 million hospital this year—something is clearly wrong with their priorities,” says Morris-Moore, referring to the brand new Center for Care and Discovery at the University of Chicago.

Chicago’s trauma care network debuted in 1986 with nine trauma centers. Since then, four hospitals have dropped out of the adult trauma network or closed entirely, including the University of Chicago  and the now-closed Michael Reese Hospital . Both were located on the city’s South Side—and many neighborhoods are experiencing higher numbers of handgun violence. 

Chicago is just another example in a nationwide trend, reports the Associated Press.  “An increasing number of U.S. hospitals have closed trauma departments for financial reasons, and impoverished minority communities are frequently the hardest hit.”

Another issue is exacerbating the closings of trauma centers in many cities: The disappearance of community hospitals in many Black and Latino communities. For instance, the 110-bed Roseland Community Hospital on the Chicago’s far South Side is more than $8 million in debt. The hospital “laid off 36 employees” in late April and is seeking a bailout from the state government.

The changing dynamic in urban health care delivery “also raises an ethical concern around medical education,” health advocate Glenn Ellis told EBONY.com. “The