Albert Grace, the president and co-founder of Loop Central.

Mt. Sinai Medical Center eyeing new way to treat trauma 

Mt. Sinai Hospital, home to one of the state’s three Level I adult/pediatric trauma centers, has announced that it’s looking to partner with the Israeli trauma treatment organization NATAL to treat victims of trauma on the West Side of Chicago. 

Victims like Darius Lightfoot, a youth organizer for Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), who lost his brother in 2010.

“I lost many of my brothers before then,” he said. “I lost many friends. I have seen bodies laying on the sidewalk—eyes opened, rolled to the back of their head, people who I knew for 7 to 10 years. I’ve seen them on the sidewalk dead.”

Lightfoot, a resident of Woodlawn, is one of the many Chicagoans from the city’s poorest neighborhoods who has lived daily with trauma, but has not been formally diagnosed with its psychological fallout—illnesses such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“I’ve seen so many people die and I’m pretty sure youth my age have that same story,” he said. “They’ve seen their friends die [and] have witnessed them on the sidewalk waiting for the ambulance to pick them up. This is a story of hundreds, thousands of youth my color, my age and my generation,” Lightfood said. 

In 2011, Cook County Hospital, which treats about 2,000 victims of violence a year, allowed researchers to begin screening patients for post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“Fully 43 percent of the patients they examined – and more than half of gunshot-wound victims – had signs of PTSD,” according to a report about the study published last year by ProPublica. 

“We knew these people were going to have PTSD symptoms,” Kimberly Joseph, a trauma surgeon at the hospital, told ProPublica. “We didn’t know it was going to be as extensive.”

That’s perhaps because it takes people who have experienced daily life in these urban trauma zones to know viscerally what it takes experts years to understand. It takes people like Albert Grace, who grew up in Chicago and attended the city’s public schools. 

Grace is the president and co-founder of Loop Capital, a member of Sinai Health System’s board of directors and a member of the National Council of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). 

During a trip to Israel several years ago, Grace encountered firsthand the work of NATAL, the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War. For the average Israeli, the threat of rockets, and the dreaded sound of the 14-second warning system, is omnipresent. 

“The notion that [Israeli kids] couldn’t play far away from home because of rockets bore a close resemblance to me of the inner-city, where kids couldn’t play far away from home because of the bullets,” Grace said in an AIPAC promotional video that was shown during a March 9th meeting at Mt. Sinai Hospital to announce the partnership. 

Grace said during that trip to Israeli, it dawned on him that NATAL could be useful in Chicago, particularly on the West Side. According to a 2013 community needs assessment, Mt. Sinai services 60,000 patients in its emergency center, many of whom are victims of violence. 

Debra Wesley, the executive vice president for community outreach at Sinai Health System, and the president and founder of Sinai Community Institute, an arm of Sinai Health System, accompanied Grace on that trip to Israel and experienced a similar epiphany.

Wesley said that, after witnessing NATAL’s work with victims of rocket attacks launched from nearby Gaza, she asked if the organization could help implement their best practices on the West Side of Chicago.

“I want to thank NATAL for not hesitating when we asked if there was a way to bring their best practices to communities impacted by trauma as a result of violence,” she said. “While different in Israel, it is just as painful to our children and their families here in Chicago. In Israel, they’re dealing with rockets….we’re dealing with bullets.”

Wesley will spearhead the establishment this fall of the Chicago Trauma and Resiliency Center at Sinai, a project that will be modeled on NATAL’s best practices. 

It will be the second of two trauma treatment projects modeled on NATAL to launch within the last year in the city. NATAL also partnered with several organizations on the Bronzeville Dream Center, which launched last September.