HYDE PARK — University of Chicago Medicine kicked off the first in a series of community meetings Wednesday to rally support for its plan to build a sorely needed Level 1 Trauma Center on campus.
The project, announced last month, will cost an estimated $200 million to get underway, officials said at the meeting at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave.
"We aren't sure of the exact numbers yet, but we expect that there will be debt," said Leif Elsmo, the U. of C.'s Executive Director of Community and External Affairs, who was on hand to answer questions.
The project will create 1,900 jobs at the medical center and 400 construction jobs. The university is currently in talks with minority and women-owned contractors, Elsmo said.
Plans call for a new ER to be built on the first level of what is currently a parking garage on Cottage Grove Avenue and 58th Street. The adult trauma center would be added there while the children's trauma center would remain at Comer Children's Hospital.
UChicago Medicine is working on a proposal that will be sent to the Illinois Health Facilities and Review Board next month for a May hearing. Once approved, officials estimate that it will take two years to build. With Bernard A. Mitchell Hospital at 5815 S. Maryland Ave. is at 90 percent capacity, getting more beds is important, said Elsmo. Fifty-four percent of beds on the South Side have been lost due to hospital closures over the last 20 years.
"There are 57,000 [emergency room] visits to Bernard Mitchell Hospital each year," said Elsmo, who noted that UChicago Medicine plans to reach out to other area trauma centers for support. "This move will help us better accommodate everybody."
The announcement was met with some skepticism from those in attendance. UChicago Medicine's last trauma center lasted only 18 months before being shuttered in 1988, and the hospital had resisted the idea to reopen one until late last year, bowing under community pressure. But Elsmo assured residents that wouldn't be the case this time around.
"I can't speak to what happened back then but I can tell you that we are committed to this project, and to serving the community's needs," said Elsmo.
Additional public meetings are scheduled to be held in the next few months leading up to the May hearing. Elsmo doesn't anticipate any major opposition, but didn't rule out the possibility. Some residents of West Englewood and Marquette Park were disappointed that an earlier plan to build a trauma center at Holy Cross Hospital, 2701 W. 68th St., was nixed.
"Some may very well be against it, but I haven't heard anything," said Elsmo. "We're still in the early stages. This is going to be a long process."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: