RAPID CITY, S.D. — When the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally revs up, it's all hands on deck at Regional Health, which has hospitals, clinics and urgent care facilities throughout the Black Hills.
To ensure adequate staffing, Regional Health in Rapid City limits paid time off for caregivers while adding staff and medical equipment. Regional’s hospitals in Sturgis, Spearfish, Deadwood and Custer also add extra equipment and beef up security in preparation for the arrival of thousands of motorcyclists who in many cases will push themselves to their limits.
In 2018, the five Regional Health hospitals treated 610 rally-related patients. So hospital officials know what to expect, according to Marla Venjohn, who coordinates system-wide rally planning for Regional Health's facilities.
“We increase our staffing in areas where we see an influx, and we encourage the use of urgent care services,” she said. “We have an influx of head traumas and neurosurgery cases. We have more physician coverage, especially for specialties we know will be busy such as general surgery, neurosurgery and orthopedics. Everyone’s expected to have all hands on deck for the week.”
Mark Schulte, president of the Sturgis Market for Regional Health, said his staff is prepared for the rally, which is marking its 79th anniversary and is expected to attract around a half-million visitors this year.
"We actually bring in a couple of extra physicians to help with night coverage, but internally our team is willing to go the extra mile and work overtime in order to give us the staff and resources we need for the rally,” he said. “I continue to be amazed at what our community has done to be ready for a crowd of this size.”
For potentially faster care — and to ease the demand at emergency rooms — motorcyclists, tourists and local residents are encouraged to seek medical treatment at urgent care locations, Venjohn said. Urgent care is appropriate for injuries that are not life-threatening and illnesses, broken bones and stitches.
Regional Health operates two urgent care clinics in Rapid City. Those clinics will maintain their normal hours of operation — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week — during the rally, which officially started Friday and ends Aug. 11.
In Sturgis, Spearfish, Custer and Deadwood, urgent care services are available at Regional Health hospitals and clinics.
Last year was the first in which urgent care services, the emergency room and hospital were at one location in Sturgis, Schulte said.
“It makes things a lot more streamlined. Our new building gives us a lot more room to handle the influx. We’ve got waiting rooms and things we can tap into that really make our ability to handle this influx that much better,” Schulte said.
Urgent care services in Sturgis are available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
An added boon for patients and their families — especially rally visitors — is the presence of the Christian Motorcyclist Association. That group volunteers to provide transportation and assistance, especially to visiting motorcyclists who are injured or hospitalized far from home, friends and family.
Cary Klatt of Peterson, Iowa, and his wife, Pam, organize the rally volunteers. Last year, between 30 and 40 volunteers helped several hundred people and donated more than 1,000 hours of time assisting patients and families, Klatt said.
“They’re a wonderful resource for us to have during the rally,” Schulte said. “As rally-goers are injured and have medical issues arise, quite frequently they have no resources around them. With Sturgis being the epicenter of the rally, we depend heavily on the CMA to help with transportation, whether it be for patients that have been discharged or other riders that were part of their group.”
New this year, Regional Health assembled a flyer for injured and hospitalized rally-goers. It includes phone numbers and addresses of hotels near Rapid City Regional Hospital and contact information for tow trucks, cab companies, veterinarians and other services. The flyer also has a map of parking near the hospital for motorcycles, campers and trailers.
Because local patients often wait until after the Sturgis rally to schedule medical appointments, health care facilities remain hectic, Venjohn said. This year, to ease the post-rally crunch and better serve area residents, Regional Health will keep extra staff on call for a few more days.
“We did learn to extend staffing in some departments to deal with the high volume that continues into the week after the rally,” Venjohn said.