Our History

The Cook County Hospital Trauma Unit was the first of its kind in U.S. history.

Founded in 1966 at Cook County Hospital (the predecessor to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital), the Trauma Unit was the first comprehensive trauma unit established in the U.S., providing prevention and pre-hospital services, critical care and surgery, rehabilitation and extensive follow-up care.  Today, the Cook County Trauma Unit is one of the busiest in the nation.

Beginning in the only space available: an unused dining room was repurposed into the first Trauma Unit established in the U.S.

The Trauma Unit was the brainchild of Dr. Robert Freeark and Dr. Robert Baker, inspired by specialty hospitals in Austria located in strategic intervals off motorways to treat victims of car crashes utilizing techniques developed in combat zones and mass-casualty experiences. For the first time, a dedicated surgical, medical and nursing team, with specialized training, were brought together in a designated area to always be available to treat critical cases.

By the 1970’s, Cook County’s Trauma Unit became the model for other hospitals and through the leadership of Dr. John Barrett led to the creation of the local and state EMS systems. Over the last five decades, the Trauma Unit has made important contributions to “resurrection medicine”, saving lives that may have previously been lost due to car accidents and violent injuries.

Learn more about our founding and community impact in Cook County Health’s article on the Trauma Unit’s 50th Anniversary.