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South Side isn’t ready for health emergencies

RoselCommunity Hospital 45 W. 111th St.  |  Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Roseland Community Hospital, 45 W. 111th St. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 24, 2013 6:16AM



As this is written, everyone wounded in the terror bombings at the Boston Marathon has survived his or her wounds. This remarkable testament to effective medical response stems largely from Boston’s exceptional health-care capacity.

But as demonstrated by the fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, the chaos wreaked by Superstorm Sandy, the shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., and the horrible gun violence that savages Chicago, every community must ask if it has the capacity to answer emergencies. And in South Chicago and other neglected poor communities, the answer is surely no.

The remarkable response in Boston was exemplary, but unique. The bombs exploded at a site — the finish line of the Boston Marathon — staffed by emergency medical services personnel and other first responders. Six trauma centers were within a few minutes of the finish line. Those hospitals were prepared to treat dehydrated runners. Several had surgeons and other clinicians familiar with blast injuries from their service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The fact that no one died who wasn’t killed instantly given the horrific injuries they sustained is just remarkable,” said Dr. Eric Toner, senior associate with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Biosecurity, a research and analysis organization that focuses on national security issues.

Compare that to the health-care desert in Roseland, Englewood and South Chicago. In contrast to Boston, there is a dearth of capacity to deal with traumatic injuries. And Roseland Community Hospital is now facing dramatic cuts in patient care. Since 2001, seven hospitals have closed in Chicago. The region has lost more than 2,000 hospital beds in the past decade. It is estimated that 3,200 African Americans in Chicago die each year as a result of health-care disparities.

In Boston, virtually all of the Massachusetts residents have health coverage under the state health-care plan — on which ObamaCare is based. Out-of-state marathon runners probably are covered by insurance provided by race sponsors. But in the shootings in Aurora, victims found themselves hit with steep hospital costs, often not covered by any insurance.

That surely is the case in South Chicago as well.

Boston’s hospitals also benefitted from years of training and coordination in emergency preparedness. After 9/11, the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 created the Hospital Preparedness Program, which provided resources for hospitals to practice for emergencies. But its budget — $515 million at its peak — has been cut by 26 percent. And President Obama’s proposed budget for 2014 would cut a third of current levels. This despite the reality that providing mass care in major emergencies is still a big challenge. “It’s clear that we’re seeing more threats, not less,” said Rich Hamburg, deputy director of the Trust for America’s Health. “There are more severe weather-related events, pandemic flu outbreaks [and] hurricanes”

The faltering recovery from the Great Recession has been crippled by cuts in public spending at the local, state and now the national level. Hysteria about deficits — despite the fact that the deficit is falling faster than at any time since the demobilization following World War II — has led to deep cuts in vital public services.

The Patriots’ Day bombings demonstrated America’s health-care capacity at its best. It is time to pay attention to the neglected areas of our cities like South Chicago, where lives are lost because of the absence of vital services.



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