Demonstrators lay down in front of University of Chicago Medical Center to protest the hospital not having a trauma center in the community. Photos: Starla Muhammad

CHICAGO ( – When a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting struck Damian Turner last summer as he stood on 61st Street and Cottage Grove on Chicago’s South Side, he was a mere four blocks from University of Chicago Medical Center.

UCMC, one of the most well known, highly touted hospitals in the city and home to a world-class research institute, has an emergency room. Instead, 18-year-old Damian was taken by ambulance to a hospital nearly 10 miles away where he later died. In a matter of life and death, when critical care is needed, a 10 mile trip, even by ambulance can be an eternity.

Outraged residents took to the streets April 21, marching from the spot Damian Turner was shot to the front doors of UCMC to demand a trauma center be opened. Holding signs and posters that read, “How can you ignore when we’re dying at your door”, Black as well as some Latino and White protestors said not having the trauma center ignores the needs of the community UCMC is supposed to serve.


The hospital does have a pediatric trauma unit but adults are out of luck. A Level 1 trauma unit means the hospital provides the highest most comprehensive level of care for critically injured patients.

Damian Turner’s family and friends, along with many South Side residents insist if UCMC had a Level 1 trauma center, he and many other seriously injured patients could possibly be saved or at least given a chance. “We demand justice today!” Sheila Rush, Damian’s mother, told the crowd. “I haven’t been able to sleep, eat … it’s a struggle for me but I will not stop till we get answers,” Ms. Rush added.

There are other hospitals on the city’s South Side but activists say UCMC is the only one with the capacity to house a trauma center. The hospital housed a trauma center but closed it in 1988, according to media reports, because officials said it was “draining resources from other departments.”

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan teaches that health care is “big business” and wrote in his groundbreaking book, “A Torchlight for America,” that the American government does not appear to be genuinely interested in the well-being of the American people. “We must now look to God and ourselves for solutions to our problems,” Min. Farrakhan writes.

Willie J.R. Fleming of Chicago says UCMC not having a trauma center in an area plagued by violence is a violation of human rights toward Blacks and other people of color. “Where there’s communities where there’s a lot of violence that you would think it would go hand in hand to have a trauma center so people can get immediate care,” Mr. Fleming told The Final Call.

Lives are being lost because people are being transported 20, 30 and 40 minutes away he added. “If that immediate care was here in the community, we’d be saving a lot of lives,” said Mr. Fleming.

March organizers including advocacy groups Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY) and Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), have been leading the crusade for several months but say their voices continue to be ignored. Damian Turner was a young community activist and a founding member of FLY.

Representatives from FLY say they have requested meetings on several occasions with UCMC president Sharon O’Keefe to no avail. The group says Ms. O’Keefe agreed to meet with them March 3 but cancelled the day before. It has not been rescheduled.

“Damian did not deserve this, he’s two blocks from a hospital and he should have been attended to, at least stabilized, and not just him. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, everybody that’s lost somebody, needs some help,” said Ms. Rush. “We need a trauma center now! I’m sick and tired of waiting!” she yelled to the crowd, which erupted in applause. As demonstrators marched, drivers of passing vehicles honked their horns as a sign of approval and support.

Victims of gunshots and stabbings are not the only patients a Level 1 trauma unit receives. People severely injured in car accidents, falls or assaults, which are leading causes of trauma, are also seen at Level 1 facilities. UCMC is a private, non-profit hospital that receives tax breaks and is currently building a $700 million medical pavilion. Proof, say activists, the hospital has resources to work toward re-opening a trauma center for the community.

The Urban Health Initiative is UCMC’s long-term community program. It says it’s committed to improving access to quality health care for the community it serves. However, there is no indication the plans includes a much needed Level 1 trauma unit.

Calls to UCMC’s Urban Health Initiative were not returned by Final Call presstime. Meanwhile, South Side residents vow to keep up pressure on UCMC and president O’Keefe until their demands are met.

“You know health care is a human right and we really gotta push on the enforcement of human rights in America as we so-called enforce human rights abroad,” said Mr. Fleming.