There’s Serious Health Care at Burning Man

For those of us “of a certain age,” medical issues tend to predominate our thinking.  In the retirement community where Lashes and I live for about half the year, nothing is discussed more frequently than health.  So I’m happy to tell all my older readers (and everyone else, for that matter) that Burning Man does a great job taking care of people when they become ill or suffer an accident on the Playa.  I have known that the healthcare provided by the volunteers was one of Burning Man’s gifts to attendees, but I wasn’t aware until this year of the additional services administered primarily by EMS providers from Humboldt General Hospital EMS Rescue out of Winnemucca, NV.  Those services are also gifted to the community.  I originally learned about this facility (located near Center Camp) from one of the volunteer physicians who work at the Burning Man medical tents located at the 3:00 and 9:00 keyholes just off the Esplanade.

Then my son, Ranger Carousel, forwarded this article to me a few days ago that detailed the work done at Burning Man by the EMS facility.

One of the fascinating aspects of the article is the discussion of the tiny number of drug related issues treated at the facility – only about 2.5 percent of patients.  However, the article points out that one of the reasons for few drug-related problems reaching the trauma center is that Burning Man handles a lot of drug problems internally at a facility called “The Sanctuary.”

But the low number of drug cases is not reflective of the overall activity of the EMS unit.  According to the Jason Busch who both wrote article and works in the facility:

“On the last Saturday of the event, the day they burn the man, we become one of the busiest, if not the busiest, emergency department in the United States. We will exceed the volume of patients we see daily at UMC in Las Vegas (a big, busy public hospital) by over 40% (more than 600 patients on the last Saturday).”

One of the squadron of ambulances parked in front of the EMS Trauma Center near Center Camp

One of the eight  ambulances serving Black Rock City parked in front of the EMS Trauma Center near Center Camp

The Burning Man medical operation is unique in part because of the desert environment, but also because of the distance (150 miles) to the closest permanent medical facility (in Reno).  As a result, the ems trauma center relies more heavily on paramedics than a normal in-city facility might.  But that doesn’t mean our medical care is in any way less top-notchl than what is available at any trauma center.

Again, from the article itself:

“…eight ALS ambulances are staffed and deployed with at least one ALS level provider. One EMS operations chief oversees ambulance observation and one incident commander is available 24/7. An airway team/critical intervention team is also available to assist with advanced procedures.”

As the population of Black Rock City increases (eventually to 100,000), so have the demands on medical staffs.  But Burning Man is committed to meeting the needs of its citizens.

As Bryan Bledsoe, one of the head honchos of the ems trauma center tells it, the staff couldn’t be happier with their role at Burning Man:  “They provide high-quality, oftentimes challenging, quality healthcare in an austere environment without worries about insurance or social status—all for free. They aren’t overly concerned with charting, electronic healthcare records, medical liability and so on. They just take care of people in a manner that they hoped for when they applied to medical school.”

Bledsoe has a string of credentials behind his name — DO, FACEP, FAAEM, professor and director of EMS Fellowship, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Nevada School of Medicine and medical director of MedicWest Ambulance.

So for anyone worried about suffering health problems while at Burning Man, be assured that we’re well taken care of.