NPR Story
3:26 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

Washington Concertgoers Fill Nearby Hospital

This weekend, rock and indie music fans from across the country make their annual pilgrimage to a corner of the Northwest’s farm country, for the annual Sasquatch Music Festival.

Over three days, 25,000 rollicking concertgoers turn the picturesque Gorge Amphitheater along the Columbia River in central Washington into the largest city in the county.

But not all of them stay there — some end up at the tiny hospital in nearby Quincy, Washington, with drug overdoses, alcohol poisoning, dehydration and other injuries. The hospital says it’s time concert organizers take responsibility.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Jessica Robinson of the Northwest News Network reports.

Reporter

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Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

This is HERE AND NOW.

And a quick note on a couple of stories we're following. There's been another death in Ukraine, a solider reportedly killed in a clash in eastern Ukraine. Yesterday, the defensive ministry said 500 pro-Russian protestors attacked government troops in another battle that left 20 insurgents dead.

Here at home, Secretary John Kerry says he will testify before the congressional committee considering the Benghazi attack. The State Department sent a letter to Chairman Darrell Issa of California. The letter saying that diplomatic responsibilities will keep Kerry from appearing on May 29. That's the date of the committee subpoena. But the department offers alternative dates. Stay tuned.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YOUNG: This weekend, rock and indie music fans will make their annual pilgrimage to a corner of the Northwest's farm country for the Sasquatch Music Festival. For three days, 25,000 concertgoers turn the picturesque Gorge Amphitheater along the Columbia River into a large city. Sasquatch is just the first of four giant music festivals that take place at the Gorge each summer. It draws more than a quarter million people.

And some of them, well some of them end up at the tiny hospital in nearby Quincy, Washington, with drug overdoses, alcohol poisoning, dehydration, the scourge of festivals. And this hospital, whose administrators say it's time for concert organizers to step up and take responsibility. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, Jessica Robinson reports.

JESSICA ROBINSON, BYLINE: Even if you've never been to Sasquatch, you can get a pretty good idea of it from all the YouTube videos people have posted, about 64,000 of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

ROBINSON: Girls in sunglasses, shorts, and tank tops, guys in sunglasses, shorts, and tank tops, young, slightly sun-crisped people laughing, dancing, screaming, generally making the case that contrary to what you may have heard, youth is not wasted on the young.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What's that? That's all you guys give me? Oh no.

ROBINSON: This is not the Sasquatch Dr. Fernando Dietsch knows.

FERNANDO DIETSCH: They come by ambulance. They come by friends. They come by pickup trucks.

ROBINSON: Dr. Dietsch is the ER Director at Quincy Valley Medical Center, the closest hospital to the Gorge Amphitheater.

DIETSCH: They're unconscious or barely conscious. They're intoxicated for something. Their blood pressure is dropping. You don't know why.

ROBINSON: Quincy, Washington is about 17 miles from the Gorge, past vineyards and alfalfa fields. Its small hospital sits down the street from a processing plant that turns potatoes into French fries. On a typical day, maybe 10 people will come through doors. But during the three day Sasquatch Festival, it's more like 60 or 70 a day.

DIETSCH: Every room will be full. What you're seeing here is absolutely compared to Sasquatch. It's surreal.

ROBINSON: And Sasquatch is just the beginning. Dietsch has a printout of all the Gorge summer concerts. With each new event, he'll go online and listen to the music so he can predict what kind of crowd will be there and what kinds of drugs will they use. Coming up in late June is Paradiso, a two-day electronic music festival. And then there's Watershed in August - three days of country music.

And so Paradiso, what are we looking at?

DIETSCH: Narcotics, just synthetic narcotics and a lot, a lot of it.

ROBINSON: And Watershed?

DIETSCH: Watershed, mostly alcohol, alcohol and fights.

ROBINSON: So you kind of have to stereotype a little bit.

DIETSCH: Yeah. More than a little bit. We have to have a very good understanding of what these concerts draw. And what staff we have to have here.

ROBINSON: All those concerts are starting to take a toll. Most of the 20-somethings in flip-flops pay their hospital bills. But some don't. And that, along with the additional staff that have to be scheduled around the Gorge concerts, cost the publicly-owned hospital an extra $400,000 last year.

MEHDI MERRED: One thing that I can tell you, this situation can no longer continue.

ROBINSON: Mehdi Merred is the hospital administrator.

MERRED: In our research, there was not similar situations in the entire United States where a small hospital, you know, rural hospital has to take care of a large venue like the Gorge.

ROBINSON: So Merred is now making an unusual request. He's asking Live Nation, the company that produces all the Gorge concerts, to pay up. Merred says he met with Live Nation last summer after a 21-year-old man died at Paradiso. But he says so far they haven't been able to work out a deal.

MERRED: I seriously do not believe in their good faith at this point.

ROBINSON: Live Nation declined to comment on tape, but in a written statement says, quote, "We have met with the hospital and the Gorge continues to operate in close cooperation with local, state, and federal officials."

A spokeswoman also noted that concerts are an economic driver in the region. And indeed, the county treasurer says last year, an admissions tax generated $1.2 million from the Gorge.

Recently, Republican state Representative Matt Manweller stepped in to try to find a solution. He's crafting a bill that would allow the county to add a $1 fee to concert tickets at the Gorge.

MATT MANWELLER: I'm not sure that Live Nation is responsible for some of the bad decisions that their concertgoers make. And by levying this fee on the ticket, it's the actual concertgoer who bears the cost.

ROBINSON: Of course, the people who end up in the Quincy ER are just a tiny sliver of the quarter million-plus annual concertgoers at the Gorge. Nick Emacio is a musician in Seattle. He's gone to Sasquatch four times since 2005. Emacio says most people are there to enjoy the music and camp out with their friends.

NICK EMACIO: People having beers, and everybody's having a good time in their little groups and parties and things like that. But if you go up to the $20-a-day parking, it's like "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome." It's, like, something's on fire. Everybody's, you know, running around, there's somebody on like a motorcycle or something. It's insane.

ROBINSON: Emacio isn't going to Sasquatch this year. At over $300 a ticket, it's a little out of his price range at the moment. And maybe next year, that will be $301.

For HERE AND NOW, I'm Jessica Robinson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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