CHICAGO — U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush is hoping the federal government can help solve the "trauma desert" on the South Side.
Rush (D-Chicago) said federal funds are needed to help build trauma centers on the South Side, which currently have none.
To address what Rush described as a "cancer to low-income communities," he is sponsoring the Trauma Relief Access for Universal Medical Assistance Act, which would provide $100 million for trauma center use over four years.
"I know $100 million is a drop in the bucket when it comes to running a trauma center, but it's a start," Rush said at a Monday news conference outside Jackson Park Hospital and Medical Center in South Shore. "A federal tax is one way the government could fund more trauma centers, especially on the South Side of Chicago where there are more trauma deserts than any other city in America."
Rush said priority use of the funds would go to adding trauma centers to hospitals that don't have them.
Had there been a trauma center on the South Side, it could have saved Kevin Ambrose, who died May 7 on his way to Stroger Hospital on the West Side, said Michael Dye, a friend of Ambrose.
Dye was with Ambrose, a Columbia College Chicago student, the night he was murdered.
"[Kevin] was coming to the train station to pick me up when someone opened fired and shot him," said Dye, 19, who joined Rush at the news conference. "We were at the Green Line station at 47th and Calumet, but the paramedics told me they were taking him to Stroger Hospital even though Provident and the University of Chicago were less than 10 minutes away."
But neither of those hospitals have trauma centers — something U of C has been highly criticized for in the past.
The closest trauma center for residents on the far South Side is at Advocate Christ Hospital in south suburban Oak Lawn.
Ambrose died on his way to Stroger. Dye ended up riding in the back seat of the Ambrose family's car to Stroger.
In 1999 Rush lost his son Huey Rich to gun violence on the South Side. Rush said his son's life could have been saved had there been a trauma center nearby.
"He would be here today to spend time with his 16-year-old daughter had there been a trauma center near South Shore where he was killed," Rush said. "I know there are many families out there who share my pain of knowing a loved one is dead because of a lack of trauma centers available."
Minutes count when trauma is involved, according to Dr. Marie Crandall, an associate professor of Surgery at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.
"When a person receives definitive care within the hour they are less likely to die," Crandall said. "Definitive involves a CAT scan, neurology and obviously surgery."
That type of medical care is what Kandice Denard said her 19-year-old brother Damian Turner needed when he was shot and killed Aug. 15, 2010 in Woodlawn. She was among 20 community residents who joined Rush to share their trauma stories.
"My brother would have made it if the University of Chicago still had its [adult] trauma center. He was taken to Northwestern Hospital where he died on the way," said the 23-year-old Woodlawn resident. "If it were whites at risk of losing their lives instead of blacks, I believe there would be plenty of trauma centers on the South Side."
Kenneth Polonsky, dean of the University of Chicago Medical Center, said he agrees that more trauma centers are needed, but he said his university is not able to provide one. The U of C does have a pediatric trauma center.
Dr. William Dorsey, CEO of Jackson Park Hospital, 7531 S. Stony Island Ave., said while he could not say how much would be needed to start a center, running one is extremely costly.
"I would love to have a trauma center at Jackson Park, but operating one is very expensive. And until a funding source can be identified there will continue to be a lack of trauma centers on the South Side," Dorsey said.