June 21, 2024

Wellness Nest

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Providing medical care on professional golf’s biggest stage

6 min read
U.S. Women's Open golf trophy shown on a golf course.
U.S. Women’s Open Trophy at Lancaster Country Club in Lancaster, PA. Copyright USGA/ Jason E. Miczek

Beginning May 28, more than 100,000 spectators will line the fairways at the Lancaster Country Club for the U.S. Women’s Open golf championship. While most will leave with only happy memories, for others, an unexpected illness and injury will threaten to spoil a perfect day on the links. 

Fortunately, the team from Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health (LG Health) will be there to help handle those unwelcome surprises. 

More than 150 top-ranked female golfers are expected to tee off in the 2024 national championship, less than three miles from Lancaster General Hospital (LGH). From the opening drive to the final putt, a team of LG Health clinicians will treat any illnesses and injuries that may occur from two fully stocked medical tents strategically situated on the golf course. 

Providing medical care at the U.S. Women’s Open—or any major sporting event—is an enormous undertaking that requires months, if not years, of meticulous planning by dozens of people and departments, including in-depth preparation for any and all possibilities, no matter how remote those “what ifs” might seem. 

The LG Health team, led by Leanne K. Beidler, MD, and Michael Killinger, MSN, RN, began coordinating logistics for the event nearly two years ago. While they expect to treat mostly spectators for minor conditions (think sunburn and sprained ankles), the team will be ready for anything from an athlete in need of quick medical attention, to someone with a life-threatening emergency, to a mass casualty event.

The pool of potential patients is large: The 2015 U.S. Women’s Open, also held in Lancaster, drew a total of 135,000 spectators, establishing a championship attendance record. LG Health also provided medical care during that event. 

“The U.S. Golf Association expects even bigger crowds this time around,” said Killinger, LG Health’s medical director of logistics for the event. “In fact, they expect that this will be the largest Women’s Open to date.”

Ready to partner across departments

Leanne K. Beidler
Leanne K. Beidler, MD

The LG Health team will provide medical care on a volunteer basis, with at least one physician and two nurses staffing each tent throughout two days of practice rounds and four days of championship play.

The open time slots filled quickly with 70 volunteers representing inpatient and outpatient departments of the health system, from diverse specialties that include orthopedics, emergency medicine, sports medicine and primary care, as well as cardiology, neurology, oncology, geriatrics and perinatology. A number of retired LG Health physicians also will serve as volunteers.

“We are fortunate to have this event here in Lancaster,” said Beidler, a family physician and the tournament’s medical director. “To be a part of it and perhaps help people in this unique way is exciting for our team.” 

Many, like Killinger, a regional director of operations for LG Health’s network of outpatient practices, are returning volunteers from the 2015 tournament. The physicians and nurses—many of whom do not play or follow golf themselves—sought the chance to work with colleagues from other departments, break out of their usual routine, and share in the experience of having a major sporting event right in their backyard. 

For returning volunteer Pamela Vnenchak, MD, director of the LGH Family Medicine Residency Program, the tournament is just fun. Vnenchak, a family physician who also happens to be a former emergency medical technician, appreciates the rare opportunity to use her skills and experience to deliver care “in the field.” 

“I love variety and the unexpected,” she said. “I’m looking forward to working in a fun, dynamic environment, getting to meet new people, hopefully helping some visitors with medical issues or injuries, and watching some golf.”

A peek inside the tents

Pamela Vnenchak
Pamela Vnenchak, MD

The USGA provides the medical tents, which are located near the country club’s main entrance and the 16th hole. Killinger describes the 600-square-foot tents as hybrid urgent care/family medicine offices, complete with flooring, temperature control, running water, and private exam rooms. 

Stocking the tents is a months-long collaborative effort involving multiple LG Health departments, including Biomedical Engineering, Environmental Services, Materials Management, and Pharmacy. Each tent contains a full complement of medical equipment and supplies, such as cots, disposable linens, automated external defibrillators (AED), blood pressure cuffs, and first aid kits, as well as medications from Epipens to Narcan, IV fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers. 

The tents will be open from the start until the end of play, or approximately 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, from May 28 to June 2. When the tents are closed, they will be locked, with 24-hour security provided by the USGA and local police. 

The LG Health team expects to provide medical care primarily to spectators, but also to any athletes, caddies, or trainers who might need treatment during the tournament. If previous experience is any indication, they will likely treat heat- and sun-related conditions, headaches and stomachaches, lumps and bumps, strains and sprains, and the occasional golf cart mishap. 

“I’m not sure if it was the excitement of the competition or overindulgence in good food, but we gave out a lot of Tums last time,” Killinger said. “Whatever people might need, our primary objective will be to provide quick treatment and get them back on their way.”

Planning for the worst…

In more serious cases, the team will stabilize and transport patients to LGH for further care. (While care is provided in the medical tents free of charge, typical payment arrangements will apply if patients are transferred to the hospital for additional care.)

Throughout the tournament, Lancaster Emergency Management Services will provide two on-site ambulances to assist in the event of a more serious illness or injury. Brendan Mulcahy, DO, LG Health’s EMS Medical Director, also plans to spend time on site with his physician response vehicle, Penn Med 1

While picturesque, the Conestoga River that runs through the golf course presents some logistical challenges. The bridge over the river isn’t designed to carry full-sized vehicles, such as an ambulance. Instead, EMS personnel in three roving golf carts will be available to quickly transport patients from anywhere on the golf course—including either side of the river—to a tent or ambulance for treatment. 

At the 2015 tournament, a handful of patients were transported to the hospital for care, including a spectator who suffered a fainting episode and fell from the bleachers. Another spectator who experienced a severe seizure was transported by golf cart to a medical tent for stabilizing care.

In addition to Lancaster EMS, the LG Health team is collaborating with local and state government, public safety, and emergency management officials, as well as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to prepare for the possibility of a mass casualty event. If such an event would occur, they would enact and follow countywide protocols. 

As nurse manager of the Trauma-Neuro Intensive Care Unit at LGH, Brandy Jenkins, MSN, RN-BC, is well-acquainted with worst-case scenarios. While volunteering at the previous tournament, she handed out water battles for dehydration and adhesive bandages for blisters, marking a serious departure from her “day job” at the hospital.

“I enjoyed watching all the people so spirited for the event and helping where I could,” said Jenkins, who had such a good time volunteering that she will return to the medical tents this May. “The feeling of being part of something the nation is watching is incredible.”

Jenkins did encounter something unexpected in 2015. It happened not in the medical tent, but on the golf course, where she witnessed a hole-in-one.

To follow the U.S. Women’s Open, visit U.S. Women’s Open Golf Championship Home page (uswomensopen.com)

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