Hospital near Gorge wants payment for concertgoers' treatment

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QUINCY (QVPR) - Quincy Valley Medical Center says at least 20 percent of its bad debt, or more than $400,000 a year, is derived from patrons of the nearby Gorge Amphitheatre who don't pay their bills.

And hospital officials want the Gorge to pay up in some form.

The hospital is seeking financial assistance from Live Nation, the owner and operator of the Gorge, for this uncompensated care that occurs during the summer concert season.

"We have to put 12 additional (full time employees) on those days and on top of that, we see people who don't want to pay;" said Mehdi Merred, hospital administrator. "So when does it stop? When can we sit down and really be heard?"

The hospital's request to Live Nation comes after an incident last June when the hospital's emergency department was overwhelmed with 123 visitors in four days. (The hospital typically sees nine to 10 people a day during a typical weekend.) Concert-goers were attending the Paradiso Festival, which features electronic music and draws mostly a younger crowd.

Of those 123 people who visited the Quincy emergency department, 87 reported coming from the Gorge; said Michele Wurl, hospital spokeswoman. Of those 87, 40 were drug and alcohol-related. The rest were for other problems, such as dehydration and lacerations. And of those 123 cases, one 21-year-old man died of a methamphetamine-related overdose.

Officials with the Grant County Sheriff's Office later said some people at the concert had taken "Molly" - the powder form of MDMA (methylenedioxy-n-methylamphetamine), also called Ecstasy.

Last year, the hospital approached Live Nation to discuss concerns about the strain the concerts are putting on the small hospital, which is about 15 miles from the Gorge. The hospital proposed a tax or fee be added to concert tickets to cover these unpaid medical costs, Merred said. However, the proposal did not receive much support from Live Nation representatives, he said.

Later in November, the hospital's attorney sent Live Nation a letter requesting the hospital and Live Nation begin negotiations for this compensation, Merred said. The hospital believes Grant County's contract with Live Nation, which provides for law enforcement services during the concert season, allows for compensation for the hospital, Merred said.

The contract includes language that says Live Nation will try to negotiate in good faith with other agencies, including emergency districts, he said.

"We feel we meet that category," Merred said. "However, Grant County doesn't agree with that."

Live Nation has not yet responded to the hospital's letter from its attorney, Merred added.

When asked if Live Nation should be responsible for these unpaid bills, Danny Wilde, senior vice president of Northwest Amphitheatre Operations for Live Nation, said that was not something he would comment on. He did say he has seen letters from the hospital requesting that they meet.

"I am not at liberty to make a comment right now," Wilde said.

An attorney from Live Nation did not return repeated telephone calls from the Post-Register.

The Gorge was a hot topic earlier this month among community leaders, who gather quarterly to talk about what's going on with each of their organizations. The hospital at that time informed the group of its plans to ask Live Nation for compensation.

When told Live Nation was described at the meeting as "uncommunicative" and "uncooperative" by local leaders, Wilde said he was unsure why such comments would be made.

"I'm not really sure where that's coming from," Wilde said. "I really would dispute that."

Local leaders also expressed concerns about Live Nation's plans to expand the amphitheater, which has been named one of the best outdoor music venues in the nation by leading industry publications.

Live Nation anticipates an "upgrade" at the Gorge, Wilde said. It must complete a Master Plan Resort Application with Grant County before embarking on any expansion plans, he said.

The application process allows Live Nation and the county to take a long-term look at the property, Wilde said. The planning process may take up to a year to complete, but the goal is to provide a better area with better service, Wilde said.

The Gorge currently seats 22,000 people for a one-day show and 27,500 for a festival, which includes more than one show. Last season, the Gorge had 375,000 visitors, which is what Wilde expects this coming season.

Last year there were about 22 event days, which included festivals. Wilde again expects to see about the same this year. "The show count will be similar to last year," he said.

The popular Sasquatch Festival in the past has been held one weekend for four days.

This year, it will be held on two weekends for three days each, with separate lineups for each weekend. "The demand was there to grow it a bit," Wilde said.

In the long term, Live Nation is contemplating pushing that festival capacity a bit, if the infrastructure is in place Wilde said.

In December, county officials and Live Nation had a formal pre-application meeting; however, this was not a public meeting, said Damien Hooper, county planner. It was a time' to present a conceptual layout of the project, he said.

As of last week, Live Nation had not filed a Master Plan Resort Application with Grant County. Those applications are due March 31.

"I think it's important to note what the Gorge does in the community," said Wilde, referencing the sales tax and jobs created and the impact on local lodging, gas and food services. And when there is expansion, Live Nation uses local contractors, he said.

Live Nation understands the Gorge is impacting the surrounding community, Wilde said. "I personally feel we are proactive about it," he said.

However, hospital officials argue the Quincy Valley Medical Center, being the closest hospital to the Gorge, has found itself in a situation like no other in the country. Quincy and George are some of the only rural communities in the country with a "mega-sized concert venue" in their backyards, putting a giant strain on their emergency services and infrastructure, said Pat Boss, public affairs consultant for the hospital. Because of this, the hospital and the community need a have a dialogue with Live Nation, Boss said. "It isn't fair to the local community to have absorb all the costs from these concerts."