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The current campaign for a Level 1 trauma center was ignited by the death of 19-year-old Damian Turner in 2010 mere blocks from the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC). Damian, a youth leader with the Woodlawn-based organization Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), was shot at 64th and Cottage Grove, but taken in an ambulance past the UCMC all the way to Northwestern Memorial Hospital 10 miles north in the Gold Coast. With the loss of one of their co-founders, FLY began its inquiry into the disparities in trauma care in Chicago. Why was Damian taken so far from his home, from his community, to receive treatment for such a serious injury? How could a world-renowned hospital not treat a child from its own backyard?
Since Damian’s death, young people in Woodlawn have been marching and rallying at the doors of the UCMC, advocating for an inquiry into the feasibility of a Level 1 adult trauma center at the UCMC. Their demands for health care have been dismissed with ambiguous statistics and distracting press releases. Their demands for opening channels of communication have been met with violent arrests. This community has been told that the care they demand is too expensive, that the care they need is unfeasible, and that their voices in this debate about the services available to them are unwelcome.
After two years of repeated requests for an investigation concerning the feasibility of a trauma center at the UCMC, the administration has been largely unwilling to dialogue. Despite protests from the South Side and University of Chicago communities, and growing support from doctors, city leaders, and community groups, the UCMC has refused to engage community advocates on this issue, dismissing their appeals as naive or unfounded. Headway has been made twice to meet with administrators, but both times meetings were cancelled abruptly by administrators. Current conversations, which are tentatively scheduled to begin in mid-April, came about not from conscious attention to community concern, but instead out of the humiliation stemming from the very public exposure of the normally very private operations of the University police department. There is hope that these discussions will be fair and productive, but there is some skepticism rooted in history that these conversations will be cursory and incomplete.
Given the resources at their disposal, the UCMC maintains a significant advantage in dispersing information in this debate. The ability to send out campus-wide communications, the ability to dedicate full-time employees to reach out to the press, and the power to structure conversations are all afforded exclusively to the University. So far, this power has been used to handle the trauma care issue indirectly, with minimal constructive contact with the petitioning groups. The “Trauma Care FAQ” put out by the UCMC communications office can be read in its entirety here. Official releases concerning the arrests and protests issued to the community have recently been placed on this website. This website, created by the on-campus branch of the trauma center campaign, aims to serve as a platform to engage and offer information from a different and less-institutional perspective. Much of the language of the writing is directly rooted in the language used by the hospital administrators who oppose this change.
At the time of this writing, the UCMC is not sitting by, quietly going about its business as a research hospital while protesters scheme against it. The UCMC is gearing up for a political battle. Brian Crawford, who most recently ran the press office for Provena Hospital of Illinois while that hospital was stripped of its nonprofit status by the state of Illinois, recently was hired to lead the Office of Strategic Communications. Over spring break, the Vice President of Governmental Affairs at the University of Chicago Medicine contacted aldermen and state congressional leaders from the Far South Side and Southwest Sides, attempting to explain to these leaders that they should not worry about trauma care for their constituents and that the UCMC in fact does do enough in the community.
For an institution that publicly claims the citywide trauma system is sound and that community questions are unfounded, these heavy-handed moves seem to imply a different internal strategy. Many are aware of the police actions in recent weeks, and more on this can be found in the media section, linked here. The trauma center issue seems to strike a very dissonant chord in the hospital administration, challenging entrenched notions of community and responsibility. Why else would the University leverage power against a group of young people advocating peacefully for change? If there is nothing to hide or nothing that truly needs fixing, why would this much energy be spent on preemptive furtive action in anticipation of non-binding community conversations? When denied conversation, these activists merely spoke louder. They wanted to talk, but instead have been forced to play ball with the biggest, wealthiest institution on the Southside.
The campaign for a trauma center is not a negative one, but a positive one, centered on creating a life saving service for injured people on the Southside of Chicago that does not currently exist. While the people affected by gun violence in Chicago may be predominantly poor and black, the people of the Southside are white, Asian, Hispanic, black and are ethnically, religiously, and economically diverse. This issue is one of racial justice, of social justice and of spatial justice. The language of emotion and the language of rights are often left out of a debate that seems to center so heavily on finances and statistics. However, we too can speak the language of academia, and have prepared ourselves to formulate this issue in whatever language is necessary to bring about change.
The origins of this campaign were in a violent death, but the aims of this campaign are deeply rooted in promoting a peaceful society. This website is created by students at the University, and includes a background on trauma care, the historical context of this debate in light of healthcare disparities in Chicago, and moral/ethical arguments addressing the role of the University of Chicago in this community (the history section is particularly juicy). We all now have a very different concept of community relations than those promoted by the University. The organizers of this campaign have nothing to hide and aim for openness and sincerity. Hopefully, this website will provide a constructive and significant contribution to this discussion.
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