May 29, 2015
Medical Care At Burning Man This Year
Medical services have been provided at Burning Man for the past several years by staff from Humboldt General hospital in Winnemucca, and they seem to have done a good job. Which explains why the Burning Man organization dropped them this year in favor of an organization that has no experience with something like Burning Man. And by "something like Burning Man" we mean Burning Man. 'Cause Coachella sure doesn't count. The new contract went to CrowdRX, which has provided medical care at Coachella fest. But, just because they have no experience in isolated desert locations don't think they are stupid. They need to hire 120 people who are experienced at providing the full range of medical care while isolated in a desert setting in northern Nevada. Really. You get extra points for that, which means they will be hiring a lot of Humboldt General people - which makes me feel better.
An early hire is Dr. Jeff Westin who has been the associate medical director at Burning Man. This year he will be the medical director, and he's got a fabulous beard. The Reno Gazette Journal organized a live chat with him yesterday. Some of the interesting info he shared about medical care on the playa:
Working in a standard emergency department on a daily basis, I get a lot of people demanding pain medications or antibiotics for complaints that probably require neither, complaining that they are not seen fast enough for their toe pain when I am trying to take care of someone with cardiac arrest, and rarely a thank you. However, working at Burning Man, I consistently experienced patients who were extremely grateful for their care, were very understanding of medical care priorities, and almost never requested pain medication or things that weren't medically appropriate. For this reason, I like to refer to medicine in the medical tent at Burning Man as "ideal medicine."
Jokes about there being no need to go to a clinic to get pain meds at Burning Man will not be chuckled at.
We have had many serious injuries on playa, ranging from aortic dissection (a tearing apart of the large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body) to subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding inside someone’s head) to tracheal transection (someone airway got crushed). Fortunately, we are well equipped to handle these types of situations until the patients can be transferred to a higher level of care.
Although many people think of Burning Man primarily as a recreational drug event, there is actually much more to the event, and it is less common than you might think to see recreational drug issues in the tent. They are generally a small proportion of the patients, but they can tend to occupy a lot of time if they are having a bad trip or it is causing them to be confused or aggressive.
We have more equipment than the standard event medical tent, because of our remote location. X-ray, ultrasound, and point-of-care lab tests are equipment that is used on playa in order to expand our capabilities and keep more burners on playa, avoiding having to send out too many people to local hospitals. Because of this advanced level of equipment and the high level of training of the providers, last year we only had to send 22 people off playa to be treated at local hospitals, and that number will likely be very similar this year.
Most of the time, there is no medical bill if you are treated in the tent. Your medical care is included in the cost of your ticket and like most other things on playa, we do not take any money. In the case of a person having to be transported off playa, the cost of the transport and any medical care provided at local hospitals is the responsibility of the patient, but anyone staying on playa does not receive a bill. IF any medication is prescribed, the patients will receive a short course to start their treatment while they are on playa, but they may be required to purchase additional medications off playa if their medical condition requires extended treatment.
The boils down to the mandatory purchase of insurance which covers you 100% as long as you stay within the city limits of Black Rock City, which must mean they are socialists - or capitalists - or something else we can object to.