Gorge concerts costing local hospital thousands

Gorge concerts costing local hospital thousands
25,000 people packed the Gorge Amphitheater for the electronic dance music festival, Paradiso. Paradiso is an 18 and over two day festival that features the biggest names in electronic dance music. Fans come to show off their wildest outfits, hide from the heat and dance late into the night. June 28th 2013. (Joshua Lewis / KOMO News)

QUINCY, Wash. (AP) - Gorge concertgoers seeking medical help have cost the Quincy Valley Medical Center more than $500,000 in 2013.
    
The hospital is seeking financial help from Gorge operator Live Nation, but hospital officials say the company has not been responsive.
    
"After the Paradiso concert, we asked to sit down with them and discuss the situation," administrator Mehdi Merred said. "It was left that they are not quite responsible for the behaviors, and they were not too interested in what I had to say."
    
Concerts at the Gorge have cost the hospital money for several years, but the Paradiso Festival in late June put center officials over the edge, Merred said.
    
"It triggered not only our scrutiny, financially, but our frustration and our concerns," he said.
    
More than 120 people visited the emergency room that weekend, many suffering from drug and alcohol abuse. One person died from a methamphetamine use. The hospital, about 15 miles from the Gorge, usually treats nine to 10 people during a typical weekend.
    
Officials have determined that they spent about $100,000 in additional hospital staffing because of concerts, but they have had to absorb $400,000 to $500,000 in unpaid bills.
    
"These people come in with false identification, no addresses, no credit cards, no driver's licenses, sometimes no vehicle because a friend who saw them in a difficult situation brought them to the hospital," Merred said. "They are not paying, and we've had to send bills to a collection agency."
    
Live Nation spokeswoman Jacqueline Peterson declined to comment beyond saying the company is reviewing the hospital's demands. "We are reviewing the situation and demands of the hospital, and we have no comment at this time," she said.
    
Merred said the backlogs at the hospital during concerts are not fair to local taxpayers whose property taxes are supporting the hospital. "I cannot guarantee the same availability of care as usual to taxpayers because we will be bombarded," he said.
    
Merred said he worries the situation will get worse in 2014. Live Nation has increased its season to include not one, but two Sasquatch! Festivals, one July 4 through 6.
    
"We haven't had a concert there that weekend before, and that is the weekend we are already tied up with Crescent Bar crowds and George festivities," Merred said.
    
But the big worry is the Paradiso Festival, scheduled for June 27 and 28. In 2012, it was a one-day festival, but it grew to two days in 2013.
    
One person who was treated at the Quincy hospital that weekend died at Central Washington Hospital from a methamphetamine overdose, according to the Chelan County coroner.
    
The Paradiso Festival draws people mainly 18 to 25 years old and features electronic music.
    
The two-day festival meant "we dealt with almost four days of chaos," Merred said. "People really start partying and doing drugs and using alcohol on the day before, then you get the day after."
    
Emergency room visits for concertgoers often involve X-rays and lab work, he said.
    
"We don't know what these patients have been drinking, snorting or sniffing," he said. "That's the reality of what we are dealing with."
    
The hospital cannot turn patients away at the emergency room, according to federal regulations, Merred said.
    
Grant County Commissioner Cindy Carter said Friday that there is no legal way for the hospital district, or the county, to force Live Nation to contribute to the hospital district. Agreements in place with Live Nation involve such things as water, sewer and sanitation but not health care.
    
Merred agreed that the concerts are "a good thing for the county and the community because they are bringing in a lot of revenue in sales."
    
"But, unfortunately, the hospital is not getting anything out of it except our regular property taxes. We are only getting the short end of everything," he said.