Emanuel proposes to transfer parkland for Obama library

University of Chicago Medical Center
An ambulance arrives at the University of Chicago Medical Center. (Margaret Anderson/Medill)

By Margaret Anderson

Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled an ordinance Wednesday to provide land for the University of Chicago’s presidential library bid, despite protests from South Side residents who say the university should not get the library if it remains unwilling to open an adult level-one trauma center.

The ordinance brings the university one step closer to housing the library by strengthening its bid. It also comes in the wake of an Illinois Department of Public Health feasibility study released Jan. 2 that evaluated the capability of five South Side hospitals to open a trauma center.

The only hospital to reach the feasibility threshold for a level-one trauma center was the University of Chicago Medical Center, but the hospital did not indicate an interest in opening one, according to the study.

“They have the money for the trauma center. They just don’t want to spend it on young, dying black people.” – Veronica Morris-Moore

The University of Chicago Medical Center closed its adult trauma center in 1988, creating a trauma desert on the South Side. Marie Crandall, an assistant professor of surgery at Northwestern University, published a study in 2013 linking longer transport time to a trauma center with higher mortality rates.

“Five miles and longer travel time made you 21 percent more likely to die,” Crandall said, “Having a trauma center on the South Side would address transport times.”

Protesters have linked the need for a South Side trauma center with the University of Chicago’s bid for the presidential library, arguing the university should fill the trauma center void before it becomes home to the library.

“I agree with those right now saying we should not support the presidential library if [the university doesn’t] have a trauma center. If you want that, you need to be a service to the broader city,” said Rev. Michael Pfleger, an activist on the South Side.

Veronica Morris-Moore, a youth organizer with Stop Chicago’s Fearless Leading by the Youth program, said she believes the ordinance issued Wednesday to be a “typical land grab” by the University of Chicago.

“I’m tired of always having to sit by while the University of Chicago tears our neighborhood apart without giving us back what we need,” Morris-Moore said.

The ordinance, which was supported by 42 aldermen, would transfer land in Jackson Park or Washington Park from the Chicago Park District to the city, Emanuel said at a press conference Wednesday.

Emanuel said the library would be a “once-in-a-lifetime educational, cultural and economic” opportunity for Chicago.

“I will not let this opportunity slip through Chicago’s fingers,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel did not provide details as to whether the city would pressure the university to open an adult trauma center by leveraging the public park land.

The University of Chicago Medical Center recently expanded the cut-off age of its pediatric trauma center patients from 15 to 17, but maintains it cannot build an adult level-one trauma center without help, according to an Oct. 29 statement. The center also highlighted the work it does for the community, including housing the South Side’s only burn unit.

Crandall echoed the center’s concerns about the labor and money involved in building and maintaining a trauma center. “There’s a tremendous amount of infrastructure. It’s a tremendous investment that can’t happen overnight,” Crandall said.

“I will not let this opportunity slip through Chicago’s fingers.”
– Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Morris-Moore said she isn’t convinced of the center’s reasons for not opening an adult trauma center.

“It’s a racist, elitist narrative that the university is not being called out for,” Morris-Moore said. “They have the money for the trauma center. They just don’t want to spend it on young, dying black people.”

According to the mayor’s office, the Chicago Park District will consider the ordinance at its Feb. 11 board meeting.

Photo at top: An ambulance arrives at the University of Chicago Medical Center on Thursday. (Margaret Anderson/Medill)