South Side getting trauma center, but it'll be far more than just an emergency room

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FOX 32 NEWS - For years, residents of Chicago’s South Side have clamored for a Level One Trauma Center to treat the victims of violence that has plagued so many of their neighborhoods.

Now, they're getting one at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. But it'll be far more than just an emergency room.

From the outside it doesn't look like much, yet. Two floors of a campus parking garage are being converted into a Level One Trauma Center at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

But in a community of big thinkers, the man in charge of this new emergency room is thinking big.

"I think we have an excellent opportunity to do two things. To start up a level one trauma center to provide care for the communities of the South Side, but also to actively partner with the community to address this seeming epidemic of intentional violence,” said Rauma Center Director Dr. Selwyn Rogers.

Dr. Selwyn Rogers is a medical superstar. Born poor in the Virgin Islands, educated at Harvard Medical School and now a nationally-recognized trauma surgeon, Rogers was handpicked by the university – not just to patch up victims of violence – but to try to prevent that violence from happening in the first place.

"If you think of violence as a disease, it's not a disease of people in that traditional flu-like disease. It's a disease of communities,” Dr. Rogers said.

Many of those communities are on Chicago’s South Side where for years, residents and activists had been demanding a trauma center where so much of the trauma is occurring.

When it opens next year, the new University of Chicago emergency room will be able to handle an additional 25-thousand patient visits a year.

"We want to create a model for what a 21st Century trauma center can be,” said Derek Douglas of University of Chicago.

Douglas is the university's vice president for civic engagement. He admits for many years the U of C was regarded at as an ivory-tower island on the South Side. But he says the new trauma center offers an opportunity to tap the brilliant minds of all the university's disciplines – such as law, economics and sociology – in coming up with strategies to combat the violence plaguing neighborhoods next door.

“The university has not looked at this issue as something that there's one department now that's gonna be there solving it on its own. They’ve looked at this as something that could bring the whole university together to try to contribute to this pressing problem,” Douglas said.

Since arriving on campus last month, Dr. Rogers has been on a listening tour of the South Side, meeting with community groups and churches, even in barber shops.

"We have an opportunity to listen actively to the community, and partnering with them to try to better understand how we as a health system or as a doctor can make a difference,” Rogers said.

Rogers says to understand what's going wrong, you have to study what goes right. Why do so many kids growing up in violent neighborhoods make it out alive and thrive?

"For me personally growing up relatively poor in the Virgin Islands, that's a source of my strength. That informs some of my drive. That informs some of my social justice. That informs some of my desire to make a difference. Without it, I'm not sure I'd be here,” Rogers said.

The University of Chicago’s trauma center is scheduled to be ready to open in the spring of 2018.