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Thu, 2018-09-13 08:22

Backstage at the WEG: Meet Dr. Mark Hart, Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Mark Hart. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo

When several hundred thousand people come together for an event that lasts two weeks there are tons of logistics to be figured out and none is more important than that of keeping the people safe and having medical treatment available in case of an emergency – whether it be big or small. The person in charge of the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) medical plan is Dr. Mark Hart who volunteered for the role of Chief Medical Officer for the entirety of the Games.

Dr. Hart, a board certified cardiologist, is from a non-equestrian background, but got involved in the sport of eventing because of his daughter. He ended up owning Poggio II who competed in two Olympics and the 2006 WEG with Amy Tryon. Dr. Hart’s daughter would leave eventing, but he stayed due to the friends and connections he made. He would go on to serve as the U.S. Team physician and on various United States Eventing Association (USEA), USEA Foundation, and United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) board positions. 

Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) is in Polk County, which has a population of about 20,000 people and only has three ambulances. “We are effectively quadrupling the size of the county for all of the people that are going to be at WEG the next two weeks,” explained Dr. Hart. “It was an interesting task to figure out how we were going to take care of all these people. The closest hospitals are 45 minutes away, so we had to come up with a different solution to take care of people here. One was providing the care, but also for the athletes when they have to go off of venue it is very time-consuming and you don’t really have a lot of control over the quality of care. We thought here that would be better for them to optimize their performance and get them back to the field of play more quickly or keeping them onsite.”

So Dr. Hart’s solution for staging a major games in a rural county with limited emergency resources was to host the first WEG that would offer an on-site hospital. “We contracted with Atrium health, and we brought in a mobile hospital which has an operating room, a trauma bay, four cardiac units, and 14 other beds, so we basically can take care of anything on site and stabilize people,” said Dr. Hart. “The only thing we are sending out are massive traumas and heart attacks. We have an ER doctor around the clock and several nurses. We can do x-rays; we can do lab work, everything on site which we have never had at any Olympics or World Games before. We also have contingency plans if we have any major incidents here and we can accommodate 60 additional patients here at the tented field hospital which is outside Med One (which is what we call our hospital). The people who are working here deal a lot with emergencies so they are a great crew – very adaptable, problem solvers. So it has been so great working with them and learning from them.”


Medical Services picks up an injured member of the media to take for x-rays. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

The mobile hospital that is set up at the WEG is one that is used when natural disasters destroy a city’s hospital and medical attention is needed for a large group of people. However, a natural disaster is on the horizon, so Dr. Hart had to think on his feet to make sure that everyone is ready for what he fears is his greatest challenge – Hurricane Florence.

“We knew it was hurricane season – we had talked about it in all of the prep, but this is forecasted to be the biggest hurricane to hit the Carolinas in history, and we are forecasted to be right in the path,” said Dr. Hart. “With that being said, we know it is coming and we have good contingencies and safety comes first. This is a sporting event – we aren’t out saving the world. We will try to keep it on, but at some point when it doesn’t become safe for the horses, riders, or spectators here we have contingency plans to delay or work around some of the weather problems that will come up.”

With North Carolina potentially needing the resources that are set up at the WEG, Dr. Hart worked with the Governor’s office and the state EMS to figure out a plan. “The biggest issue is that we can’t strand the people at the WEG and create a new medical disaster by leaving,” continued Dr. Hart. “With the size of the hurricane this may be a site where they would put a mobile hospital anyway. We are working very closely with the emergency services that we can help any disaster relief and indeed people can be flown from the coastal hospitals to the WEG mobile hospital.”

When someone thinks of all of the facilities needed to host a World Equestrian Games, a hospital probably isn’t at the forefront, but Dr. Hart and TIEC has made sure to put the medical well-being of its athletes, spectators, and staff there.

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