ParaDocs crews set up mini-hospitals at events such as Rolling Loud at New York’s Citi Field in 2019. CEO Alex Pollak is in black standing at right center. (Courtesy ParaDocs Worldwide)
ParaDocs Worldwide among providers who keep eventgoers healthy
Alex Pollak is CEO of ParaDocs Worldwide Inc., a company that for nearly a decade has provided medical services at a variety of live events. With venue operators and event producers preparing for the return of sports, concerts, meetings, conventions and trade shows, he shared by email with VenuesNow’s James Zoltak his perspective on the role medical services have played in the past and their importance in ensuring health, safety and confidence going forward in the new normal of the post-COVID-19 world.
Tell me about ParaDocs, how it got started, how long it’s been in operation, what the company does and some of your clients and assignments?
ParaDocs was created out of a chance encounter I had on the subway in early 2011. Two women were discussing where they would find a paramedic for their fashion show that was taking place that weekend. At the time, I was working in the continuous improvement division of a large ambulance service. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to blend my business education, clinical experience, and entrepreneurial nature to help improve the experiences of people seeking medical care in a nontraditional environment.
ParaDocs Worldwide Inc. is an event medical company. We provide medical services for special events large and small. This includes some of the largest fashion shows, music festivals, car races, sporting events, corporate conventions and concert venues in the United States. A short list of our clients includes the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, the Governors Ball, the Met Gala, Formula E, Rolling Loud and the World Economic Forum.
ParaDocs essentially operates as a free mini hospital for event attendees. We treat medical conditions ranging from dehydration to seizures; you’d be hard-pressed to find an emergency our team hasn’t dealt with. For this reason, we come prepared for both minor injuries and life-threatening situations. Depending on the type and size of event, we will staff our stations with doctors, nurses, paramedics, and/or EMTs.
What is your background? How did you come to this line of work?
I started as a volunteer emergency medical technician in high school. I found helping others to be profoundly satisfying. Later, I transitioned to paid positions in the industry as I worked my way through college. While completing both my undergraduate and graduate education, I worked overnights as a paramedic in New York City’s 911 Emergency Medical Services system.
Both my bachelor and master’s degrees were in finance. After completing school, however, I decided to remain in healthcare rather than transition to the finance world. I put the knowledge I learned as a newly minted MBA to work helping more patients than I could treating them in the field directly. The company and its ability to efficiently respond to and care for its customers became my new patient. The clinical and management experiences prepared me to seize the opportunity that presented itself and start ParaDocs.
How do you find time to volunteer and do nonprofit work in addition to your role as CEO of ParaDocs?
Time management is essential. I am not very good at this myself and find it a challenge. Luckily, I have pulled together a wonderful support team who help keep me focused on the tasks at hand. With so many events being canceled, I find I am able to spend more time leveraging ParaDocs’ experience and contacts to do more philanthropic and nonprofit work these days. My primary focus now is trying to uplift the spirits of the front-line health care heroes selflessly battling this deadly pandemic every day.
What is your view on the evolution of medical services as they relate to the live events industry? How have things changed over the decades, from 9/11 to the Vegas attack, and now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic; how do you see the next phase altering operations?
As a first responder to the 9/11 attacks in lower Manhattan, I experienced firsthand the devastation and chaos that can take or profoundly alter people’s lives. With everyone else, I live the changes to society that resulted. After every major event, people are expecting organizations to adjust and prevent or mitigate the potential for their harm. The aftermath always results in greater interest by producers and venue owners wanting to have more control over, and better provide for, medical emergencies that affect their guests, partners and associates. The next phase is probably going to see more interest in preventing problems that might cause attendees to question their participation in public or large private events, beyond bag searches and metal detectors. We see the role of event medical services expanding from healthcare delivery to include more public health support.
How important a role will medical services and things like temperature screening and disinfection upon entry play as live events resume?
This is a very volatile topic since we are still discovering how best to identify those who might present a health threat and we learn more daily. Thermal screening is a tool that has been used and will definitely have a place in the return to public events as they begin to roll out.
I imagine the health and safety of artists, athletes, crews, venue staff will also be of paramount importance.
The health, safety, and well-being of guests has always been of paramount importance for event producers. They spend an enormous amount of money ensuring that companies like ParaDocs are on site to take care of their guests. Medical services at events are free for all attendees paid for by the promoter. An effective public health focus, however, must include everyone within the venue, both local and visiting.
In addition to practical matters of monitoring and screening for health risks, ensuring disinfection and sanitation, would you agree there is a major psychological aspect that will be involved in restoring confidence on the part of those who would attend as well those who work events in various capacities?
This is America. People decide what events to buy tickets for and to attend. If they don’t feel the event will be safe, they won’t go. The best way to ensure the confidence of the public is to have an effective safety program, not just a “pretty” one.
What sorts of conversations have you been having with past and potential clients about how to move forward and what the new normal will look like?
Most of the conversations have been positive. The focus is on how to make the events as safe as possible for the attendees, or workspaces for employees. Everyone I’ve spoken to is as concerned for the well-being of their guests as we are.
Are you aware of new technologies, materials, equipment and methods that will be brought to bear as live events resume?
Thermal imaging, artificial intelligence, core and surface temperatures, have always been something we have been cognizant of, but we are learning more and more as we see a greater need. We are on the cusp of providing our clients a preentry screening service for events as they begin again in the near future. The Screening At Front Entry, or SAFE, program will combine body temperature and symptom screening in a variety of configurations depending on the size of the event. We are having to find and integrate new technology into new processes in order to help our clients meet the changes to the event management business they are facing.
Are we going to be a race of germaphobes as a result of what’s happened?
I can’t imagine Larry David (big “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fan here) attending an event in the very near future. I believe people will be tentative as they begin to stick their foot into the water. I believe it’s a bit premature to speculate too much about the future while we continue to learn things day by day about this novel coronavirus.
You were recently involved with FEMA’s emergency COVID-19 response. What can you tell me about that?
As an active New York City paramedic, I immediately enlisted with the New York State COVID-19 FEMA Task Force. I can’t speak much about the deployment itself (due to the sensitive nature) but I do want to thank all those brave EMTs, paramedics, and other healthcare workers that came from all over the country, working around the clock to help out my home city. Their selflessness and self-sacrifice have been one of the most heartwarming and uplifting experiences in this pandemic. It’s hard not to be inspired by them.