HYDE PARK — The head of the University of Chicago Medical Center said Tuesday that he agrees with protesters and even doctors from other hospitals that the South Side needs better access to trauma care — but he said the university cannot provide it.
At Medical Center Dean Kenneth Polonsky’s first meeting with the public following two years of protests, Polansky said although the U. of C. has a large medical operation in Hyde Park, the institution simply doesn't have the resources to provide trauma care despite the glaring need.
“We are overwhelmed with patients at the moment — we are at capacity,” Polonsky said. “I share the sense of frustration, and I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a trauma center, I’m saying there needs to be more resources brought to bear to meet this need.”
He rejected opening a trauma center at his facility.
“If a level-one trauma center is needed, it will need to be at another hospital," he said. "We cannot address every need of the community.”
Prior to the meeting with Polonsky, protesters again made a show of what they think are the consequences of a lack of local trauma centers to treat car accident and gunshot victims between Northwestern Memorial Hospital downtown, Stroger Hospital on the West Side and Christ Memorial Hospital in the south suburbs.
He pointed to the death of Columbia College student Kevin Ambrose, who was shot when he went to meet a friend at the 47th Street Green Line "L" station on May 7, but was taken miles away by ambulance to Stroger.
"Kevin died because he had been shot, of course, but also because he had to take that ride,” Michael Dye said of his 19-year-old friend. “If he had been able to take an eight-minute ride down here [to the University of Chicago], maybe he could have survived.”
After a 45-minute presentation by the university, Polonsky sat for an hour fielding questions from Dye and other community members in Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 E. 59th St., on the Hyde Park campus.
Polonsky repeatedly stressed that despite the recent opening of the university's new Center for Care and Discovery in February, his medical facilities are at capacity.
“We are at 100 percent capacity in our emergency room and our inpatient services,” Polonsky said. “There are a number of things we couldn’t do if we set ourselves up as a trauma center.”
On May 13, the Medical Center asked the Illinois Department of Public Health to allow it to bring back 38 beds to the university's Bernard Mitchell Hospital building at 5815 S. Maryland Ave.
“Within four days of opening on Feb. 23, the medical and surgical beds in the Center for Care and Discovery, along with the remainder of medical and surgical beds in Mitchell, were essentially full,” said Sharon O’Keefe, president of the medical center in a letter to the state, adding that the hospital is at 90 percent capacity on one of every three days.
However, the second and third floors of the Center for Care and Discovery are empty and could be used for additional patients, but the university currently has not asked the state to authorize any use of the space for inpatient beds.
Dr. Thomas Esposito, a trauma surgeon and chief of the trauma center at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, suggested the University of Chicago lead a collaborative effort to provide trauma care on the South Side.
“I go to Haiti, I would be happy to go to the South Side,” Esposito said.
Dr. Gary Merlotti, also a trauma surgeon and head of Mt. Sinai’s trauma center, said the U. of C. could offer care at a different institution.
“There are many other solutions where the University of Chicago can step up and provide care at another facility,” Merlotti said, adding that the university could provide medical care and expertise, but would not be responsible for infrastructure costs.
Polonsky said that was an “interesting idea,” but said it would need to be coordinated with many other institutions, and multiple city and state departments would need to be involved.
The meeting concluded with an outburst by community organizer Alex Goldenberg, who grabbed the microphone after the end of questions to thank Polonsky for meeting with the community to address their concerns.
“We’re not going to go away until you do more,” Goldenberg said.