Activists: U. Chicago Must Open Trauma Center Before Obama Library

Sunday, 11 May 2014 05:46 PM

By Greg Richter

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A group of Chicago activists don't want to see the University of Chicago considered for a future Barack Obama presidential library as long as the school's hospital doesn't have an adult trauma center.

South Side residents and community groups say it would be hypocritical for the University of Chicago to be rewarded with the library since the elite institution is in a violence-plagued neighborhood, and Obama has fought both for better health care and decreased gun violence.

"We're not against the Obama library because we feel like it will bring great resources to the neighborhood, but we also feel that [university officials] need to get their priorities straight," said Trauma Care Coalition member Victoria Crider, who also is a leader with Fearless Leading by the Youth, Progress Illinois reported.

"Before they can build such a prestigious attraction, they need to prioritize the lives of the young black people who are dying around them," Crider said. "We've been knocking on the university's door to get a trauma center for almost four years, and we've barely got their attention."

"The University of Chicago does not get to be rewarded for their long history of racism," said Mental Health Movement leader N'Dana Carter. Carter said that lack of a Level 1 trauma center shows that the university wants nothing to do with the surrounding community, which is primarily poor and black.

The campaign for the adult trauma center began in 2010 when 18-year-old youth advocate Damian Turner was shot just blocks from University of Chicago Hospital. Paramedics took him nine miles away to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he died.

Members of the Trauma Care Coalition believe Turner would have lived if he could have been treated at University of Chicago Hospital.

A 2013 study by the American Journal of Public Health found that gunshot victims in Chicago were less likely to survive if they were more than five miles from a trauma center, USA Today reported.

The hospital currently treats trauma victims up to age 16, and built an adult trauma center in 1986. It was closed two years later, with cost cited as the reason.

In a response to Progress Illinois, the University said its position has not changed and that adding such a unit would be a "massive undertaking, requiring significant resources and support, as well as a complex decision-making process involving the city, the state, and Chicago's trauma network."

It would likely take away needed resources from other areas, such as its trauma unit for children, the neonatal intensive care unit, the South Side's only burn unit and Chicago's only hospital-based emergency helicopter service.

Not everyone in the area thinks the library and trauma unit should be tied. Rep. Bobby Rush, who represents much of the South Side, said the economic benefit of the presidential library is much needed and should not be forfeited over issues with the hospital.

Rush's son, Huey Rich, was shot a few miles from the hospital in 1999. He was taken to a hospital in the suburbs where he died days later.

The University of Chicago is seen as the leading contender for the Obama library. Obama taught in the law school there before being elected president, and his wife, Michelle, was an executive there.

Other contenders include Chicago State University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Bronzeville neighborhood group. New York and Obama's home state of Hawaii are also in the running.

State lawmakers in Illinois have pledged $100 million to the expected $500 million project if the library is built in Chicago.

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