New partnership will bring Level I center to Chicago’s “trauma desert”

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Sinai Health System and University of Chicago Medicine announced on September 10 that they will work together to establish an adult Level I trauma center on the south side of Chicago. The new center will fill a gap in trauma care for the city’s underserved neighborhoods. The announcement follows years of community protest over disparities in trauma care. If successful, the new partnership could serve as a model for other trauma care collaborations.

Pooled resources
The new trauma center will be established at Holy Cross Hospital, according to a press release. Holy Cross, which is part of Sinai Health, is roughly 2 miles southwest of Midway Airport. The hospital serves an area with some of the highest incidence of traumatic injury and gun violence in Chicago.

Under the proposed partnership:

  • Holy Cross will renovate and expand its emergency department to accommodate an adult Level 1 trauma program.
  • Facility improvements at Holy Cross will be funded by approximately $40 million provided by UC Medicine.
  • UC Medicine will provide most of the physician staff of the new center, including trauma surgeons, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, plastic surgeons and other specialists. In addition, UC Medicine residents will do trauma rotations at Holy Cross.
  • Sinai Health will provide the bulk of the program’s personnel, including emergency department physicians, anesthesiologists, nursing staff and support services.

In addition to the new trauma center at Holy Cross, UC Medicine plans to expand and upgrade the adult emergency department at its Hyde Park campus. The expansion will cost approximately $35 million, according to the Chicago Tribune.

A model for trauma collaboration
Financial pressure prompted UC Medicine to close its adult trauma center in 1988. In recent years, community activists have staged an ongoing campaign for a new south side trauma center. But UC leaders have maintained that the expense of a trauma center should be shared by the region, not borne by the university alone.

Partnering with Sinai Health will allow UC Medicine to spread the financial risk of trauma care. “Around the issue of trauma and violence, we believe collaboration and shared responsibility are absolutely critical in addressing the overarching needs of the community,” said medical center president Sharon O’Keefe, according to the Chicago Tribune. “No one institution can do all of that.”

For Sinai Health, the collaboration is an opportunity to expand services by leveraging the expertise of its academic partner. “We had long been thinking about adding a trauma center to the Holy Cross campus,” said president and CEO Karen Teitelbaum, according to the Tribune. “Because of our long-standing relationship with the U. of C., we picked up the phone and talked to Sharon (O’Keefe) about it, knowing it was an issue she was grappling with as well. Sharon gave us a call back and said, ‘Let’s look at this together.’”

Next steps
UC Medicine and Sinai Health will soon file a certificate of need application with the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board. The partners must also seek approval for the plan from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Regulatory approvals and construction work are expected to take at least two years.

“Both organizations will use that time to recruit additional highly trained medical staff, nurses and other healthcare professionals to work with existing specialists from both institutions at the new trauma center,” according to the press release. “Next steps also include meetings with community leaders to develop companion community programs focused on wellness and prevention.”