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Core planning committee members toast in anticipation of the second annual Sierra Nevada Conservation & Wilderness Medicine Conference. From left: Candice Coursey, Darren Beatty, Tiffany Leonhardt, Dr. Jeff Kepple, Tracy Kepple and Jeff Lewis. Not shown are committee members Dr. Zina Semenovskaya, Karen Story, and U.C. Davis medical student Jordan Rode. Photo by Debra Moore

Public invited to participate in wilderness medical conference

The second annual Sierra Nevada Conservation & Wilderness Medicine Conference is scheduled for May 31 through June 2 and you don’t have to be a doctor to participate.

“We’ve had a lot of folks ask us if non-medical folks can attend and the answer is ‘Yes,’” said Dr. Jeff Kepple, the event’s co-organizer. “Bottom line, if anyone wants to gain skills or knowledge in low resource and wilderness settings, they could benefit from the conference, or, if they want to learn more about environmental issues that impact human health both directly and indirectly.”

The three-day conference features a number of lectures, as well as hands-on opportunities. A complete list of courses can be found on Plumas District Hospital’s website, but includes such topics as:

– “Tricks of the Trade in Wilderness First Aid”

– “Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain”

– “Concussions/Sports Medicine”

– “Mountain Biking Injuries”

– “Bites and Stings”

– “Creation of Public Land Protections and Controversies”

The trainings are interspersed with afternoon recreational options such as group hikes, kayaking and mountain biking.

The central gathering spot for the conference will once again be the West End Theatre in Quincy.

This year a particular focus will be placed on the impact of wildland fires on human health. A panel is scheduled for Saturday evening following a showing of the film “Wilder than Wild: Fire, Forests and the Future.”

The film, sponsored by the Fire Safe Council and Sierra Institute, is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. followed by the fire panel at 8:15 p.m.

Kepple said that fire has a tremendous impact on an individual’s health from the obvious immediate threat, to the inhalation aspects, to post traumatic stress syndrome to overall mental health.

As an example he cited a family that not only lost its own home to the Camp Fire, but seven family members who lost their homes as well. Where they once lived in close proximity to each other, they now are spread out across California and elsewhere.

“There’s also that aspect of human wellness,” Kepple said.

The panel will consist of Kepple as the moderator, Tony Hobson, Plumas County Behavioral Health director; Terry Collins, Collins Pine; Jonathan Kusel, Sierra Institute; Hannah Hepner, Fire Safe Council; Jeff Dupras, Plumas National Forest; and Joe Waterman, retired fire chief.

Plumas District Hospital, Plumas Health Care Foundation and Feather River College are co-hosting the conference, with financial assistance from a number of local sponsors. The Quincy Fire Department is doing its part by serving up a pancake breakfast Saturday morning.

The conference is open to both healthcare and non-healthcare professionals, including students and residents, and CMEs and CEs will be available.

Kepple attended his first wilderness medicine conference in 1990 and described it as “pivotal” in his decision to practice rural family medicine. Since his arrival in Quincy in 1994, he has dreamed of hosting such an event locally. That became reality last year when he found a kindred spirit in Dr. Zina Semenovskaya.

The two organized the inaugural event that drew 80 attendees in 2018. Based on the positive feedback received as well as some suggestions, the duo undertook a second such conference with some minor changes. Twenty of last year’s participants are returning this year.

While Kepple acknowledges that some of the lectures are geared more for the physicians and other medical personnel in attendance, he said that there is a lot of value for non-medical attendees, especially with this year’s focus on wildland fire.

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