Meeting the medical needs of the BVJ
For five days in mid-summer, a “mini-hospital” rises to the beat of country music in a storage shed on the outskirts of Camrose.
Hospital beds, exam tables, medical supplies, intravenous, cardiac monitoring, basic blood analysis, and dispatch equipment, privacy tents/curtains, and more transforms the building on the Camrose Regional Exhibition Grounds into well-stocked medical facility to serve the Big Valley Jamboree.
The mini-hospital has become a busy place during the Jamboree, a world-renowned country music festival that draws about 35,000 people daily to see top performers such as Tim McGraw, Lady Antebellum, Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley, Toby Keith, and rural Alberta’s homegrown star Brett Kissel.
About 300-350 patients are treated at the festival site annually, preventing many unnecessary visits to the Camrose Emergency Department.
Not only are Jamboree attendees from around the world swaying to the music all day long — and well into the early morning hours — but many stay at the campsites on the festival grounds all weekend. This influx of people nearly triples the population of Camrose.
The pop-up microcosm of a community brings with it a variety of medical situations, says paramedic Greg Clarkes, who took over the facility’s operation in 2006. Dehydration, broken jaws, soft tissue injuries, cuts, dental fractures, animal bites, and even prescription refills for those who forgot their meds at home, are just a few of the cases the medical clinic sees. And of course, the usual alcohol- and drug-related incidents that inevitably accompany music festivals.
About 300-350 patients are treated at the festival site annually, preventing many unnecessary visits to the Camrose Emergency Department, he says.
“It takes a big strain off the St. Mary’s Hospital emergency department,” adds Dr. Chris Nichol, the 2017 RhPAP Rural Physician Award recipient and 18-year Jamboree volunteer.
Each year, the Jamboree medical facility builds on its services to meet the needs of the festival. This year, a dentist, psychologist, and massage therapist were part of the team of 75 volunteers who operated the main 24-hour clinic and two satellite clinics — one in the concert bowl and one in the south campsite.
Len Freeman took on the overnight lead shift this year and turned it into a mini family reunion with relatives from across Western Canada. He’s an advanced-care paramedic and his significant other, Debie, his daughter Madison, son Kole, and their partners joined him on the late shift.
Freeman insists it was a great opportunity for his kids to get some hands-on experience in the medical field, while having some fun.
“Nothing replaces human interaction,” said Freeman, who was proud to see his medically trained family excel on the job. It was also worthwhile for Debie to see him in his work environment, something she wouldn’t otherwise experience.
While Freeman held down the medical fort, Clarkes caught a few winks just steps from the medical centre in his RV with his wife, Claudia, a dentist, and their daughter, Andrea, who also volunteers.
“It’s good for people to hear about Camrose and what it’s like.”
– Dr. Chris Nichol
Dr. Nichol, meanwhile, recharges nightly in his own home, where the physician is easily accessible. The shifts can be long ones; Dr. Nichol starts around 11 a.m. and once ended as late as 5 a.m.
But Dr. Nichol wouldn’t have it any other way. He and his family enjoy country music and he takes in performances between patients.
As a local resident, he also understands the value the multi-million-dollar weekend brings to the area and is pleased at how the clinic has evolved over the years to maintain quality medical care for area residents and festival participants during the Jamboree.
“It’s good for people to hear about Camrose and what it’s like. Really, we are ambassadors for our community. It’s the best weekend of the year in Camrose.”
- Article and photos by Lorena Franchuk
The Rural Health Beat
The Rural Health Beat is a weekly enewsletter featuring articles about the latest news and innovations from the world of rural health care as well as a curated selection of health news and stories from Alberta and beyond.