South Side trauma center cutting down on ambulance transport times, ultimately saving lives

When an off-duty police officer was shot on Chicago's Far South Side last month, fellow officers quickly drove him to the University of Chicago emergency room. After emergency surgery, doctors said he was stable and doing well.

If that shooting happened three years ago, it could've had a different outcome. The University of Chicago and the entire South Side did not have a level one adult trauma center to handle a gunshot victim.


Doctor Selwyn Rogers Jr. has led the trauma center since the University of Chicago first opened it in May of 2018. He says a level one center can handle the, "sickest of the sick", including traumatically injured people. The hospital's move brought trauma care to an area experiencing much of the city's trauma for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Former University of Chicago student, Doctor Ali Abassi, studied patient transport times before and after the new center opened and found race has played a big part.

"The story of where the trauma centers are located in Chicago, is really the story of residential segregation in the city of Chicago," Abassi said.

He found that before the trauma center opened, it took two minutes longer to transport a Black patient in Chicago to life saving help than it did a white patient.

"After the trauma center opened that gap basically shrunk," Abassi said.

This has made the most dramatic change in places close to the University of Chicago, such as the South Shore neighborhood. Instead of taking a trauma victim downtown to Northwestern Medicine or to Cook County Hospital on the West Side, going to University of Chicago shaves nine minutes off the ambulance ride.

According to Dr. Rogers, "nine minutes can be life or death for the most critically injured patient, for those people who are the most severly injured time is of the essence."

Dr. Rogers also says 40 percent of their trauma cases are from gun violence, so the hospital doesn't just stop the bleeding. They're working to stop the shooting, with a recovery program to support victims and their families.

Dr. Rogers says the new trauma center is one step in the fight against Chicago's violence and one step towards tearing down structural racism.

"I think this is an important period of having a reckoning of how racism has impacted so many communities and what we as a nation can do collectively to make a difference," he said.

As soon as it opened, the University of Chicago trauma center became one of the busiest in the country. It has been open just short of three years and the emergency team has treated more than 10,000 patients.