The University of Chicago Medical Center will break ground Thursday on an emergency department that will include a long-awaited round-the-clock trauma center to serve the violence-plagued South Side.
The ceremonial start of construction in Hyde Park marks the last chapter in a long-running conflict pitting community activists against a hospital administration reluctant to take on the burdens of running a money-losing trauma center.
“We're very excited to be able to mark this milestone,” Sharon O'Keefe, president of the University of Chicago Medical Center, said in an interview.
In addition to the new emergency department and trauma unit, which is expected to cost $43 million and be completed by early 2018, the university plans to convert its Mitchell Hospital into a cancer treatment center with 188 more beds. That will increase the UC hospital complex to 805 beds, roughly the number at Rush University Medical Center on the near west Side.
“As we aggregate our cancer patients in the Mitchell Hospital," she said, "it will free up capacity in the Center for Care and Discovery,” the main hospital building within University of Chicago Medicine.
Gaining that additional upstairs capacity was critical to expanding the emergency department. “We have been operating at 95% to 100% occupancy,” she said. “In order for us to establish trauma services here, we had to have incremental bed capacity” to move patients to and from the emergency department.
Overcrowding in emergency departments is a major reason hospitals can't serve more patients, and a reason that some patients leave without being seen. In 2013, 13% of UC emergency patients left before being seen. That rate dropped to 8.6% in the year ended June 30.
The four new trauma bays are being added just as the surrounding community is living through a startling increase in shootings and random violence, much of it driven by gangs and the illegal drug trade. Today victims of violence on the city's South and Southeast sides must be transported miles away to Mount Sinai Hospital or Cook County Health and Hospitals' Stroger facility on the West Side or Advocate Christ Medical Center in southwest suburban Oak Lawn.
The University of Chicago Medical Center's emergency department expects to see 59,000 adult visitors this year, up more than 50% from 39,000 in 2009. The hospital expects the number to reach 86,000 by 2021. In the first full year of operation, the university hospital expects to serve 2,700 adult trauma patients.
Its emergency department lost about $30 million in 2015. O'Keefe didn't have a projection for future losses once the new facility is up and running.
The new emergency department will be housed in the ground level of an existing parking structure at South Cottage Grove Avenue and East 57th Street, across the street from U of C Medicine's new Center for Care and Discovery. The garage was built with the intention of putting a 29,000-square-foot emergency room there.
The cancer center is expected to cost $226 million to build and create 1,000 permanent jobs.
"U of C Medicine begins work on new emergency department and trauma center" originally appeared in Crain's Chicago Business.