Trauma Care Statement

On Monday 19th May, a group of protestors associated with the Trauma Care Coalition [1], including two members of Graduate Students United, chained themselves to the construction site of the new University of Chicago Medical Center Emergency Room. The action was meant to highlight that all was not business as usual. Seven protesters were forcefully dragged off the site, though no arrests were made. One was taken to the ER for injuries sustained during removal by police [2]. The police aggression they faced [3] only made dramatically explicit, once again [4], the administration’s lack of willingness to engage the views of community groups and student organizations in deciding its priorities.

As Graduate Students United itself attempts to organize for a process of collective bargaining – demanding that university administration recognize the union and negotiate over wages, benefits and working conditions – we call upon administration to participate in meaningful conversations with students and community members associated with the Trauma Care Coalition. They have been highlighting a matter of serious concern. We firmly oppose this practice of sending the police to do the talking. We are also aware that some of those involved in the protests have received emails from administration, and we call on them to refrain from taking any “disciplinary measures.”

The Trauma Care Coalition is organizing a protest march on Friday, 23rd May, to protest the police action and administrative inaction about the trauma center. They further demand that “the University of Chicago Hospital Open a Level One Trauma Center, Dean Polonsky meet with the Trauma Care Coalition, and that the University participate in the Trauma Center feasibility study being done by the Illinois Department of Public Health” [5]. Many GSU members will be there in support.

Trauma is the leading cause of death for people aged 1-44 in Chicago [6]. Anyone can be a victim of trauma, which ranges from bike and car accidents to gunshot wounds. Additionally, the South Side suffers from a large percentage of penetrative trauma, which requires treatment at a level one trauma center. Yet, the closest trauma centers are clustered in downtown Chicago, the closest being Northwestern Memorial Hospital in River North (9.1 mi). Research shows that longer travel times increase chances of dying [7].

The campaign for a trauma care center in South Chicago started after youth leader Damian Turner was shot on 15th August, 2010, a few weeks short of his 19th birthday, in a drive-by shooting just three blocks away from the world-class University of Chicago Medical Center. Even with the hospital so close by, Turner was taken to the closest level 1 trauma center at Northwestern Memorial. He died within 90 minutes of being shot [8].

Fearless Leading by the Youth, of which Turner had been a founder, took the lead in organizing, and it has been a long road leading to today’s Trauma Care Coalition. Along the way organizers have made use of a wide variety of strategies for making their demands clearly and forcefully. They have moved from organizing a “die in” in the quad (October 2010), to a ten-mile March (September 2012), to a coffin march (November 2013), to a sit-in at the new pavilion built by the university (January 2013), to different public meetings including representatives from the administration, to leading prayers at the UCMC on a weekly basis this quarter, to picketing – just to name a few strategies adopted. While the administration made some conciliatory noises after last January’s protests generated some negative media attention [9], they have since showed no inclination towards even considering the possibility of contributing to build a trauma center. The repeated use of force further indicates the administration’s lack of interest in engaging in any meaningful discussions.

The UCMC declared, in 2010, $56 million of community care. However, $44 million of this was the compensation they received from state and federal government for Medicare/Medicaid patients, leaving only $12 million of their Charity Care as real, free care. The UCMC is a non-profit hospital, which requires that it be “primarily charitable” in purpose. This $12 million of charity care pales in comparison to the $1.18 billion dollar patient-services revenue that the UCMC reported in 2010 (in addition to endowment resources, subsidies, and property tax exemptions for being a nonprofit hospital). We believe that given the great need for a level one adult trauma center on the South Side, building it is a responsibility towards its community the UCMC should perform.

The university’s medical school is also the only one out of the top twenty medical schools in the country that does not have a level one adult trauma care center [10]. The U of C also recently announced a $4.5-billion capital campaign and has already raised $2-billion. The message is clear: the money is there, but the commitment to the South Side is not. A university is not meant to teach its students only commodifiable skills that are valued in the market, but also to value living with a sense of their responsibility towards others. We protest the increasingly corporate-driven vision of the university, which claims to stand for the greater common good while people are dying at its doorstep.

Many members of GSU have been and remain very active in the trauma care campaign. Last week GSU cosponsored a town hall with the Trauma Care Coalition to discuss whether the university has a responsibility to serve the needs of the surrounding community before they get the honor and money that comes with the Obama library [11]. As members of campus and community organize to have a say in the university’s decision-making, grad students are also organizing. We would further emphasize that Barack Obama is on record as supporting graduate employee unionization [12], and ask: does university administration not also have an obligation to agree to recognize the union and to bargain in good faith before it gets the honor and money that comes with the Obama library?

Abhishek Bhattacharyya
Kevin Casto
Hannah Chazin
Emilio Joseph Comay del Junco
Tamara Kamatović
Jorge Lefevre
Daniela Licandro
Basil Salem
Katie Schumacher
Andrew Yale

[1] The Coalition consists of Fearless Leading by the Youth, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Students for Health Equity, Kenwood Church of Christ, University Church, National Nurses United, Illinois Single Payer Coalition, and allies. See the Facebook event page.
[2] For media coverage of the protests, including some footage and interviews, see the Huffington Post, Univision, NBC ChicagoABC Chicago, The Nation, DNAInfo, the Hyde Park Herald, and the Chicago Maroon (twice).
[3] This youtube video captures some of it.
[4] See GSU’s article.
[5] See Facebook event page.
[6] As per 2006 report of Chicago department of Public Health.
[7] See “Trauma Deserts” in the American Journal of Public Health. Doctors and medical students have also been articulating the importance of having a level one trauma care center for adults on the South Side.
[8] See NBC Chicago and New York Times stories.
[9] See “Chain of Command” in the Chicago Maroon.
[10] A campaign photo generated by Students for Health Equity makes the point very eloquently.
[11] See Facebook event page, DNAInfo, the Chicago Tribune, the Sun Times, and Crain’s Chicago.
[12] See a 2008 Obama-sponsored bill to amend the National Labor Relations Act.