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When the city’s trauma care network started in 1986, there were nine trauma centers. Since then, four hospitals dropped their adult trauma departments or closed entirely, including two adult trauma centers on the city’s South Side: the University of Chicago facility and the now-shuttered Michael Reese Hospital.

Lack of funding for expensive trauma programs is the most commonly cited reason for closures. Reese was said to be losing $3 million a year on trauma before it closed.

Chicago still has enough trauma centers for a city its size, but they’re unevenly distributed _ clustered on the North and West sides, leaving the far South Side and the southeast side underserved, said a doctor who helped set up Chicago’s trauma network in 1986 and has watched it change.

“The number of trauma centers is right,” said Dr. Gary Merlotti, chairman of surgery at Chicago’s Mount Sinai Hospital, one of the hospitals in the system. “People need to understand that more trauma centers is not better. If you had too many, outcomes would actually deteriorate.”

Unmistakably, the activists’ argument carries emotional weight: With increasing gun violence on the South Side, they say, victims shouldn’t have to travel by ambulance 30 minutes to reach top-level trauma care. They want a nearby trauma center.

With help from the Occupy Chicago Press Committee, a Facebook page and a rap video on YouTube, they’re getting their message out. Most recently, Morris-Moore and other protesters, many of them black, staged a sit-in at the university medical center’s new $700 million facility. Police arrested four of her fellow activists that day.

The group put out a fact sheet quoting a Chicago researcher, Dr. Marie Crandall of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who has analyzed data specifically on Chicago gunshot victims and found transport times affect survival.

Last year, Crandall told two news organizations about her data. She told The Associated Press she can’t talk about her findings until her paper is published in April.

“People are really grasping for this data because it can inform discussions about certain issues in the city,” Crandall said, apologizing because the medical journal’s publication policy prevents her from discussing her conclusions.

With more than 500 homicides in Chicago last year, many of them shooting deaths, the controversy seems sure to persist.

“Nothing is more tragic than loss of life,” Crandall said. “Even when people survive gunshot wounds, the stress and damage take a toll. … This is really a disease of young people, and it just cuts them down.”

University of Chicago hospital officials say they’re doing their part to address health care disparities on the South Side. And the hospital runs a children’s trauma center that takes patients through age 15.

“Most of the South Side residents can get to a trauma center within 25 minutes, and it’s well within the so-called golden hour” when time is critical, said Dr. Jeffrey Matthews, chairman of surgery at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

“I think we’re a very easy target” for protests, Matthews said. But he added: “The closer one gets to providing the actual care, the more one realizes how complicated the issue is.”