Indy 500 Provides Roadmap for Mass Gathering Emergency Care

Tracy Ballard
Tracy Ballard

Every city needs at least one emergency department, and for one day each May, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway becomes the second largest city in Indiana.

For more than a century, Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital has partnered with the speedway to provide care for the event from an on-site facility.

As the largest single-day sporting event in the world, the Indianapolis 500 attracts up to 400,000 race fans, who come to watch 33 high-performance racecars fly around the iconic oval track at speeds as high as 240 mph.

At speeds like that, drivers accept the inherent risk of injury, but spectators also experience their share of medical emergencies.

At 11 a.m. Central time tomorrow, nurses Tracy Ballard and Natalie Calow will explain what it takes to pull off The Greatest Spectacle in Nursing: Mass Gathering Emergency Medicine at the Indianapolis 500. This virtual behind-the-scenes look into motorsports medicine will include a video tour of the infield care center, a permanent structure near the first turn of the 2.5-mile track.

Natalie Calow
Natalie Calow

“We do all of the onsite medical care here for free for spectators, crews and drivers,” said Ballard, a nursing professional development educator at Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital who has practiced motorsports health care for nine years. “Anybody who is using the Indianapolis Motor Speedway could come into our infield care center and receive the care for free.”

As a well-resourced emergency department, the center treats bumps, bruises, lacerations, heat-related illnesses, strokes, cardiac arrests and everything in between.

“We have ultrasound. We have blood products available for traumatic injuries for the drivers,” Ballard said. “We do not have a CT scanner and we do not have lab capabilities.”

Having an infield medical center and more than a dozen first-aid stations throughout the venue takes pressure off local hospitals during the races, concerts and other mass gatherings at the speedway.

In addition to evaluating and stabilizing patients at a large-scale event, the goals of the health care team are to “preserve the capacity of local public health and acute medical care in the community and ultimately respond to extraordinary or catastrophic events if they do occur,” said Calow, a forensic nurse at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital.

On race day, the infield care center is staffed by 12 to 15 nurses and four physicians to fulfill this mission, which can involve treating 150 patients or more in just a few hours.

Improved safety mechanisms helped lessen the severity of driver injury in the event of a crash. During the session, Ballard will explain how safety devices are incorporated into the design of several items integral to the race, including the track itself.

“These safety mechanisms in place — from their suits to their cars — really are what keep these drivers safe when they wreck going 230 mph and are able to get up and walk away,” she said.

EN21 session recordings will be available for on-demand viewing on the meeting platform through Jan. 31.