By Aryeh Bernstein
On May 19th, JCUA and the Trauma Care Coalition demonstrated tangible power in a packed town hall meeting in North Kenwood. The meeting focused on influencing the University of Chicago in implementing its Level-I Adult Trauma Center with transparency and accountability to the South Side community. The many passionate and informed voices in the room sent a clear message to the University of Chicago administrators present that the campaign is not over, that the community expects a voice in the structuring of the trauma center, and that it will act to ensure that voice is heeded.
Background about the Trauma Center Campaign
For the past year and a half, JCUA has been a full partner in the campaign to bring a Level-I Adult Trauma Center to the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC). For the past thirty years, there have been no Level- I Adult Trauma Centers on the South Side, and gunshot victims in the area have had no local options for emergency care. Since 2010, this campaign has been led by grassroots South Side organizations representing those most impacted by gun violence. Learn more about the campaign and the coalition members here.
Why this Town Hall Just Now
The Trauma Care Coalition has secured two significant victories in this past year. In December, The University of Chicago announced that after years of refusal, it will, indeed, build a Level-I Adult Trauma Center. In May, the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board unanimously approved the University of Chicago’s application for a trauma center. On the heels of these victories, the coalition called this Town Hall to make sure that the trauma center will be developed with community members at the table and with a comprehensive approach to trauma care.
What Happened at the Town Hall
The Town Hall was introduced by Jawanza Malone, Executive Director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), and Veronica Morris Moore, who led the campaign through the youth wing of Southside Together Organizing for Power (S.T.O.P.). Morris Moore framed the notion that a trauma center can and should provide services beyond enhanced emergency medical response to trauma. To flesh this out, we heard from a panel featuring UCMC nurse Adriana Sanchez, who lives in the Woodlawn community; Carol Reese, a member of Stroger Hospital’s Healing Hurt People (HHP) program; and Sheila Regan, staff member of CeaseFire Illinois. In response to data indicating that patients admitted to trauma centers as victims of violence are vulnerable to re-injury and return admission, HHP and CeaseFire operate violence prevention programs. HHP focuses on emotional health needs, PTSD, and chaplaincy services, while CeaseFire, staffed by residents of the communities whom they serve, works with trauma victims on alternatives to retaliation and other data-supported methods of violence reduction. HHP already works in UCMC’s Comer juvenile trauma center. The UCMC has not yet initiated any relationship with CeaseFire, which does work in four other trauma centers in Chicago, and which faces new challenges to its work since Governor Rauner cut off its state funding in March.
After the panel, town hall attendees broke into working groups to collect community input. Prominent themes included: the importance of filling staff positions with Black residents of the local neighborhoods; parking affordability; ensuring that the first and most prominent people encountered in the trauma center are social work, mental health, and pastoral professionals, and not security personnel; and that the trauma center partner with organizations like HHP and CeaseFire on a comprehensive approach to trauma reduction – the kind of financial investment which would save the University of Chicago on more costly trauma care down the road.
There were over ninety participants, of all ages, from all the surrounding neighborhoods and elsewhere in the city, and from each coalition partner, including over a dozen JCUA members. University of Chicago had two representatives present: Cristal Thomas, University of Chicago Medicine Vice President for Community Health Engagement and Senior Adviser to the Vice President for Civic Engagement, and Leif Elsmo, Executive Director of the Office of Community & External Affairs. Ms. Thomas and Mr. Elsmo saw an engaged, knowledgeable, diverse, and well-organized community activated by the awareness that this trauma center is an existential, life-and-death issue for the community. They are a community poised to use its collective power to ensure that the U of C acts as a responsible neighbor in its implementation. As a JCUA member and as a Hyde Parker, I was proud to count myself in this community.
As a member of the Trauma Care Coalition, JCUA continues to organize for a community advisory board an significant investment in wraparound social services as part of the University of Chicago’s recent commitment to a Level I Adult Trauma Center. For more information about the campaign, visit our website.