$9.1 million gift supports resilience collaborative for children and families on South Side who suffer trauma

April 10, 2019

Written By
Lorna Wong & Angela Wells O'Connor

[MUSIC PLAYING] Trauma on the South Side of Chicago is a big problem, and children are often the most vulnerable victims.

At Comer Children's Hospital, 12% to 20% of the trauma patients come in because of penetrating trauma. That's compared to a rate of about 5% nationally in a pediatric hospital for that form of trauma.

The Block family was inspired in part by a poem written by a young woman about the sadness in her childhood. Ellie Block met the young woman and was deeply moved.

This beautiful young girl had such a hard passage. There was no chance to have joy in her life, and that seemed so wrong that somebody so young never got to know the joys in life.

One of the things about trauma care is we often think about the physical trauma, but we often don't think about the social and psychological trauma and the impact that has on the course of a child's life cycle.

A unique approach that provides an ecosystem of trauma-informed care for children and their families who are critically injured or exposed to violence on the South Side of Chicago is getting a big boost, thanks to a $9.1 million gift by the Ellen & Ronald Block Family Foundation and the Hassenfeld Family Foundation.

The gift will integrate and expand clinical and community services under the Block Hassenfeld Casdin (BHC) Collaborative for Family Resilience to help young patients and their families recover from the immediate and long-lasting effects of trauma caused by gun, domestic or sexual violence or child abuse.

The BHC Collaborative for Family Resilience is based on the premise that trauma caused by violence is best treated holistically — starting with personalized care of the child and family in the medical center, and continuing through discharge and recovery, even extending into the home, school and neighborhood — through a network of community resources.

Ellen Block, Brenda Battle and John Cunningham, MD
From left: Ellen Hassenfeld Block, member of the University of Chicago Medical Center Board of Trustees; Brenda Battle, vice president of the Urban Health Initiative at the University of Chicago Medicine; Dr. John Cunningham, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago Medicine

“The genius of this program is that the community and medical center are true partners, each bringing their expertise, from working together on the initial design to making improvements along the way. This kind of real change takes the efforts of so many people — respecting, trusting and supporting each other — and a commitment to the long term,” said Ellen Hassenfeld Block, a member of the Board of Trustees at the University of Chicago Medical Center. “We are excited to support this effort and are grateful to everyone from everywhere who has worked tirelessly to create this collaborative, for their ongoing contributions, and for their commitment to a long term future that we too share, seeing that all children and families in our community are safe from violence, resilient, healthy, and can grow up and thrive.”

The investment comes as UChicago Medicine marks the one-year anniversary of the May 2018 launch of adult trauma care. The Level 1 Adult Trauma Center added to UChicago Medicine’s pediatric trauma and burn services, thereby providing a comprehensive system of care to treat the full range of trauma injuries in patients of all ages.

UChicago Medicine has cared for 3,058 trauma patients from May 1, 2018, through March 31, 2019. Of those, 276 were pediatric trauma patients. UChicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital has been a designated pediatric trauma center since 1990.

The gun violence epidemic continues to affect communities across the country. In 2017, there were 14,542 deaths caused by intentional gun violence, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has yet to release 2018 figures. According to the Chicago Police Department, 561 residents were killed and nearly 3,000 were injured by a gun in the city in 2018 — causing a ripple effect of trauma-related physical and mental-health consequences for families and children who live in communities like those on the South Side.

“The public health crisis of intentional violence and its traumatic after-effects require innovative approaches that knit together the strengths and resources of institutions, individuals and community-based organizations alike,” said Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD, dean and executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Chicago. “We are most grateful for this generous gift and for the new opportunities offered by the BHC Collaborative to significantly expand trauma recovery programs and further strengthen the network of care and services on Chicago’s South Side.”

When we think about 'trauma care,' we have to think broad. It's extensive. It's deep. It's responsive. It's relational. It's holistic.

The BHC Collaborative for Family Resilience

The model represents a dramatic shift in trauma care: Instead of providing only medical care to trauma patients, the BHC Collaborative approach includes wraparound services to help children and their families during and following their hospital experience. This means offering mental-health and social-service support, health care navigation, help finding housing or childcare, and much more.

 The structure was driven by the ideas and input of UChicago Medicine’s Community Advisory Council (CAC), which is made up of civic and faith-based leaders who provide guidance on key health concerns that affect residents of the South Side.

“When we think about ‘trauma care,’ we have to think broad. It's extensive. It's deep. It's responsive. It's relational. It's holistic,” said Sherida Morrison, founder of the community-based organization Demoiselle 2 Femme and a CAC member who advises UChicago Medicine on child and maternal health issues. “The impact will go long beyond the gift as our children grow into healthy adults, and we create a healthier city.”

Key components of the BHC Collaborative involve:

  • Helping children navigate their hospital experience by providing 24/7 Child Life interventions in the UChicago Medicine Comer Children’s emergency room and support for children whose loved ones are treated at the Level 1 Adult Trauma Center.

    “For young patients in urgent or dangerous circumstances — such as child abuse or neglect, suffering from a gunshot wound, or victimization in human trafficking — the hospital can be another unfamiliar place amidst a crisis,” said John Cunningham, MD, chair of the Department of Pediatrics and physician-in-chief of Comer Children’s. “This investment will help ensure that every child affected by trauma can benefit from the calming, compassionate care of a child life specialist.”
We need to address trauma from a public health perspective through prevention, intervention, collaboration and community building.
  • Providing wraparound resources to support the holistic needs of children and families experiencing trauma and linking them to specialized, trauma-informed counseling services, including Healing Hurt People-Chicago, a nationally recognized trauma intervention program that provides such services as group therapy and mentoring; the REACT program, which offers assessment, trauma-focused psychotherapy and medication management services for children; and other community-based social support.

    “Our work cannot stop in the ER or operating table,” said Selwyn Rogers, MD, director of the Trauma Center and chief of trauma and acute care surgery. “We need to address trauma from a public health perspective through prevention, intervention, collaboration and community building.”

  • Investing in community-based organizations that provide critical resources aimed at helping children, families, and the community build long-term resiliency from trauma and violence.

“Whether through our Violence Recovery Program, Comer Children’s Child Life Services, Healing Hurt People or one of our community partners, this gift will greatly expand our capacity to support our most vulnerable young patients as they recover from traumatic events,” said Brenda Battle, vice president of UChicago Medicine’s Urban Health Initiative and chief diversity, inclusion and equity officer. “At the same time, the BHC Collaborative’s investments in the community will help nurture and grow the trauma recovery ecosystem that works to bring hope and healing to families and communities, and build resiliency on the South Side. It is our hope that this program becomes a model for other communities facing similar circumstances.”

The gift represents the largest single donation to UChicago Medicine from the Block and Hassenfeld foundations, which have already supported many University health care initiatives focused on helping children and advancing health-justice initiatives. Through their philanthropy, the Block family also:

  • Established the Ellen H. Block Professorship for Health Justice, currently held by Melissa Gilliam, MD, vice provost for academic leadership, advancement and diversity at the University.
  • Supported the clinical and research work of Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and medicine-geriatrics, around sexuality and health justice. That included WomanLab, a virtual platform that provides worldwide access to evidence-based medical information about the impact of cancer on female health, sexual function and well-being, and tools for women and girls to advocate for themselves in choosing treatment and access to aftercare.
  • Supported the South Side Pediatric Asthma Center.
  • Contributed to the Comer’s Children’s playground and other Child Life programs.