CHICAGO, IL — Shot while playing basketball just steps away from a hospital, a 15-year-old boy lay bleeding to death in an alley as emergency room workers refused to treat him, saying it was against policy to go outside.

"Nobody should have to lie in an alley dying next to a hospital."

About 30 minutes after the shooting Saturday, a frustrated police officer finally commandeered a wheelchair and brought the boy in himself, but it was too late.

A bullet had perforated Christopher Sercye's aorta, and he died about an hour after he was brought into Ravenswood Hospital.

"It's a ridiculous policy," James A. Maurer, deputy chief of patrol for the police district that includes the hospital, said Monday. "They don't leave the campus? What's that? They're standing out there having a smoke when the kid is in the alley bleeding."

He said police are trained to not move seriously injured people but to wait for paramedics. "We can't pick him up and carry him. What if the bullet moves?" Maurer said.

Friends, neighbors and police officers had pleaded with the ER staff to come out and treat him. Several people also called for an ambulance, but none had arrived after more than 20 minutes, police said. One showed up after the officer took Christopher inside.

John E. Blair, president and chief executive of Ravenswood Hospital, said that the hospital, situated in the city's middle-class Ravenswood neighborhood, is not a trauma center equipped to handle serious gunshot wounds and that staffers do not leave their duties to treat people outside. The nearest trauma center is about two miles away.

"As time passed ... I personally wish that we had gone out to see if we could have helped Christopher."

John E. Blair, Pres. & CEO, Ravenswood Hospital

However, "As time passed and it became apparent that paramedic response was delayed, I personally wish that we had gone out to see if we could have helped Christopher directly.

"We are determined to review Ravenswood's policies to make sure that something like this never happens again," Blair said.

To have survived, Christopher would have needed an immediate operation to repair his aorta, said Dr. Edmund Donoghue, Cook County's medical examiner.

Ravenswood staffers "probably would have been helpful to go out and see what they could have done for this patient," he said. But he said there is no way of knowing whether Christopher could have survived had he received immediate treatment.

The Fire Department denied any delay in dispatching an ambulance, saying one arrived four minutes after the department learned of the shooting.

Three teens who prosecutors said have gang affiliations were charged with first-degree murder in the shooting. Christopher was described as an innocent bystander.

Amidst all the finger-pointing, neighbor Donna Dudley just shook her head.

"If we cannot be responsible as human beings to help each other, it's a shame," she said. "Nobody should have to lie in an alley dying next to a hospital."


The callous circumstances of Christopher Sercye's death offended just about everyone who'd heard the story, igniting a firestorm in Chicago and around the country, and touching off some very outspoken "soul-searching" among the medical community. Rarely has the American political community been given such an easy issue to both agree upon and make points from.

Rarely has the American political community been given such an easy issue to both agree upon and make points from.

On May 20, Chicago aldermen [city legislators] responded to the controversy with a flurry of proposals aimed at preventing its repetition.

Although Ravenswood had already declared that its policy had been revoked days before, city aldermen began proposing various hospital crackdown measures.

One version would strip the general business licenses of hospitals and impose fines of up to $1,000 if they refused treatment to patients within 150 feet of their doors. Hospital administrators who interfered with treatment would face up to 90 days in jail.

A similar ordinance required treatment within 1,000 feet of the hospital. Another proposal denied tax-exempt status and free water to recalcitrant hospitals.

A joint investigation by the Better Government Association and the Dateline NBC news staff concluded there was more than enough blame to go around, charging it actually took at least five calls to the city's new 911 dispatch center before an ambulance rolled from its quarters, ten minutes after Sercye was shot.

"... the question is why would you resist sending an ambulance when the people are telling you a guy's been shot?" asked BGA Executive Director Terrence Brunner at a June 3 news conference.

"When you've had four phone calls? What are they trying to save here? Gasoline? .... This is a classic picture of bureaucratic red tape, woven into such a rat's nest of Catch-22s, resulting in complete inaction by everybody involved."

One measure threatened to jail for 90 days hospital administrators who interfered with treatment.

On the national stage, President Clinton threatened on May 30 to withhold Medicare payments from any hospital that failed to provide emergency care, saying that "no health care professional should turn the other way, and no supervisor should direct an employee not to intervene in a medical emergency."

The White House also notified Ravenswood that its Medicare funding would end June 21 "unless the facility takes steps to ensure that the events that led to the tragic death of 15-year-old Christopher Sercye are never repeated again."

Richard Wade, senior vice president for communications at the American Hospital Association, said many hospitals have been "doing a lot of soul searching" as a result of the incident.

For its part, the association released a new set of guidelines recommending that hospitals change any policies that would prevent staff from taking appropriate actions in a medical emergency.