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Young activists push for South Side trauma center

Updated: June 10, 2014 6:42AM



For young people, there aren’t too many gray areas. Something is or it isn’t.

On Thursday at 6 p.m., several community organizations made up of teens, will host a Town Hall Meeting at University Church, 5655 S. University Ave., to voice concerns about the University of Chicago’s bid for President Barack Obama’s presidential library.

Ever since 18-year-old Damian Turner was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in 2010 — blocks away from the renowned hospital in Hyde Park — young activists have pressured hospital officials to reopen a trauma center that it closed in 1988.

Instead of an ambulance taking Turner to the University of Chicago Medical Center, which was a few minutes away, it had to go downtown to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the nearest Level 1 trauma center.

Turner, who co-founded Fearless Leading by the Youth, an activist group, was pronounced dead 90 minutes after he was shot.

“We are saying Obama cares, not the University of Chicago. So, why do they deserve an Obama library?” asked Victoria Crider, who is a senior at King College Prep and a member of Fearless Leading By The Youth.

“I have personally seen the lack of trauma care that is affecting our community. We are in a gun violence epidemic and the fact that we can’t get access to a trauma center is bogus,” Crider said.

Despite the sustained protests, the University of Chicago Medical Center has not budged.

Last year, it issued a statement pointing out that, “Developing a Level 1 adult trauma center would be a massive undertaking, requiring significant resources and support, as well as a lengthy and complex certification process involving the state, the city and Chicago’s trauma network.”

Hospital officials also said they did not believe an adult trauma center “would be the best allocation of our resources for patients and community.”

Officials also said they were “open to working with public and private entities that can support an adult trauma center.”

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the medical center, said that statement still stands.

But for youth like Crider, the matter is simple.

An adult trauma center should be located on the side of town where many of city victims are getting shot.

Although the University of Chicago Medical Center provides trauma care for victims 15 years and younger at Comer Children’s Hospital, older gun-shot victims have to be rushed across the city.

Shannon Bennett, deputy director at Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, said he believes the University of Chicago Medical Center won’t reopen the trauma center because it doesn’t want to be perceived as a “hospital for the poor.”

When you consider the buzz surrounding the proposed presidential library, you can understand why Bennett and others might feel that way.

In January, University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer released a statement expressing the university’s willingness to work with the city and others to bring the Obama library to the city, calling it a “watershed moment” for the South Side.

For the hospital to turn a deaf ear to the community’s pleas for a trauma center while the university covets a presidential library is an affront to a community that is burying its young people at a staggering rate.

“We feel if the [University of Chicago Medical Center] prioritizes getting the Obama library and pretty much can generate the revenue it needs, they should have the same priorities when it comes to saving black lives on the South Side,” Bennett said.

Usually, it’s hard to keep young people focused. But these teens have been steadfast for good reason.

“These young people aren’t giving up because they have examples of other young people that have been murdered and believe that having a trauma center might save some lives,” Bennett said.

I salute them for making some righteous noise.

Email: marym@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST



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