- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

STURGIS, S.D. (AP) - A South Dakotan by birth, Mark Schulte, the CEO of Sturgis Regional Hospital, knows that his small facility gets a little crazy during the first week in August.

But this year, with nearly 1 million people expected to arrive in the region for the 75th anniversary of the Sturgis motorcycle rally, Schulte is concerned about all the additional “What ifs?”

As in: ‘What if bad weather, such as a tornado, strikes?’ Or ‘what if a terrorist cell picks the rally as an attractive target?’

Such fears come on top of the traditional influx of patients needing medical care during the rally period, which, in reality, lasts about two weeks, the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1IheLEX ) reported.

“Not only Sturgis,” Schulte said, “but the entire Black Hills would struggle to meet the needs of all of those patients.”

During the rally, Sturgis Regional’s emergency room sees about the same number of patients as would typically be seen in a month, Schulte said.

“It’s kind of like taking one of our busy months and scrunching it down into 10 days,” he said.

For the landmark 75th, Schulte said, Sturgis Regional is anticipating a larger number of just generally sick patients with dehydration, cardiac distress and the typical nightly crowd of the overly intoxicated.

“Our data shows that when you have a larger rally, typically we don’t see the trauma from accidents because everywhere is so congested, they just don’t have the ability to get up to speed,” he said. “We’ve been tracking this pretty steadily since the 50th, and that is typically what we see.”

Schulte predicted Regional Hospital’s affiliates in Lead-Deadwood, Custer and Spearfish also will be busier this year.

“That’s based upon that fact that so much of Sturgis will be full, and those folks have to be somewhere else,” he said.

Complete gridlock also is a concern, Schulte said.

But Regional Health and its affiliates are planning for all worst cases.

“If we do get the populations they are estimating, and we have either staff that can’t get here or potentially supplies, we have a plan for that,” he said. “We have alternative routes and alternative delivery times.”

Because of gridlock, Life Flight helicopters often are used to transport those injured in accidents during the rally. Schulte said with the anticipated increase in visitors for this year’s rally, a third Life Flight helicopter will be brought in.

“This will be the first time during the rally that we will have three. They can’t all be stationed in Rapid City, so you will see them more out in the area.”

That means that during Sturgis City of Riders Mayor’s Ride, which loops through the Black Hills, a helicopter may be stationed in Custer, or during the Ham ‘n’ Jam, one may be stationed in the Hulett, Wyoming, area.

On a typical rally day, mid-afternoon is the time Sturgis Regional begins to fill up, Schulte said.

“That continues through the evening until about 11 o’clock at night,” he said. “Mid-afternoon and into the evening are prime times for accidents. Mid-afternoon is also the heat of the day, which influences illnesses.”

The number of patients with some sort of health insurance has increased over the years, Schulte said, some with Medicare, others with steady jobs that include coverage.

Like other businesses in Sturgis, August provides a good revenue boost for Sturgis Regional Hospital.

“Our staff works hard to have all the patient information correct so that we can get a bill filled out correctly. We filed claims with a couple hundred insurance agencies during last year’s rally, including overseas,” he said.

The typical patient who comes to Sturgis Regional during the rally is a 55-year-old man.

“Twenty years ago it was probably a 30-year-old male,” Schulte said. “It follows right in line with what the city has for demographic information on a typical rallygoer.”

In planning for this year’s rally, Sturgis Regional has had representatives at regional rally planning meetings.

“There are 50 local agencies and others all the way up to the governor’s office that have been part of those meetings,” he said.

Schulte, a year into his Sturgis Regional post, said he was pleasantly surprised with how smoothly things ran during last year’s rally period.

“One of the things that have been the ‘aha’ moment after the rally is how much our caregivers get excited about serving. This is their chance to show off their skills and their community and the level of care we can provide to our visitors,” he said.

They approach the week with a lot of pride in what they do, Schulte said.

“Towards the end of the rally, like everyone else, they get tired and are glad to return to some normalcy again,” he said.

To date, Sturgis Regional has been able to handle the situation without adding much additional staff during rally week. Staff numbers total about 120, Schulte said. Those that usually work part time are asked to work full time during rally week.

“That includes our security, nursing and housekeeping,” he said.

The hospital does, however, bring in two temporary physicians who primarily will cover the night shifts.

With Sturgis Main Street closing on Wednesday before the official start of the rally, Sturgis Regional will shift into rally mode on July 27.

In some cases, employees and duties are shifted around to increase efficiency. For instance, some of the hospital’s secretarial staff will help out in admissions area, which is extremely busy taking in emergency room patients.

Also, the hospital’s human resources staff is diverted to new duties, as no one comes in looking for a job during rally week.

Clogged roadways usually don’t bother employees, Schulte said, as they have figured out the Sturgis traffic patterns.

“But all bets are off for the 75th,” he said.

Schulte said some staff members will stay in town with a friend or family member during rally week, and some physicians stay in campers in the hospital’s parking lot.

“Often times they are brought in at off hours, even though they aren’t scheduled,” he said. “We bring them in during an influx of patients. Knowing that they are there for the ‘what ifs’ is comforting.”


Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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