Music medics mend health center’s costs

Rock fans who party too hard at Bay Area concerts over the decades have helped to keep a San Francisco health care clinic open.

For 34 years, Haight Ashbury Free Clinics Inc. has staffed volunteer doctors and nurses at most major concert venues in the Bay Area, including Golden Gate Park, The Warfield and Candlestick Park.

Event planners pay HAFC for Rock Medicine, footing the bill for medical supplies and insurance and depositing about $200,000 annually into the clinics’ coffers, according to CEO John Eckstrom.

“Rock Med is practically self-sustaining,” he said.

The idea, pioneered in 1973 by famed concert mogul Bill Graham and HAFC founder Skip Gay, puts portable emergency rooms in packed concert venues as a way to keep sick or inebriated fans from overwhelming local hospitals or spilling into city streets.More than 400 volunteer medical practitioners staffed 556 events last year, said Wes Fifield, program director.

Rock Medicine isn’t just benefiting free health care, it also is offering local medical practitioners more on-scene action in their profession, Fifield said. The portable emergency rooms are fashioned after M*A*S*H clinics used during the Korean War, he said.

“With the loud music, [Rock Medicine] becomes very much like battlefield medicine,” he said. “You find yourself in a situation where you can’t hear or see. You’re very much involved in the incident itself.”

Fifield said that while many volunteer practitioners are drawn to the job so they can watch their favorite bands, those who stick around do so to be of service.

Kicking off a new summer of concerts, Rock Medicine will host a public bash and fundraiser at the Great American Music Hall on O’Farrell Street at 6 p.m. Sunday.

Eckstrom expects Rock Med to staff more than 600 events this year.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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