MASH PIT Founder Analena Valdes Graham, RN
Who she is: MASH PIT’s CEO and co-founder Analena Valdes Graham is a flight nurse for a Level 1 trauma center in DC, who co-founded the organization in 2009 with a handful of her medically trained friends.
What she does: Although most concerts have a first-aid station inside the venue and local EMS available outside the arena, MASH PIT’s Roving Medical Teams (RMTs) are stationed inside and interact with the crowd to assess the need for their services. Thanks to their sponsors, MASH PIT can distribute free earplugs, water, bandages, and other helpful items, as needed.
Why she does it: “When you go to a concert, you want to have fun,” she explains. “Of course, there are times when concert-goers step slightly over the line and need a little assistance. Our job is to keep the party going in a safe way, using our medical skills.”
THE MAKING OF MASH PIT
By Hope Katz Gibbs
“We fix bad trips,” is the motto of MASH PIT, a DC-based charitable organization that prides itself on providing “non-judgmental” medical services to concertgoers, musicians and their crews.
Founder Analena Valdes Graham knows the score. She began her medical career as a paramedic with a fire and rescue squad in Fairfax, VA. She worked as a critical care nurse in the emergency room, neuro and medical intensive care units before getting trained in flight medicine and emergency care.
“This included critical care ground transport and helicopter and fixed wing plane transport,” says the woman who currently splits her time running MASH PIT and working as a critical care and Flight RN with MedSTAR Transport in Washington, DC.
Back in 2007, however, the medevac airplane she was on crashed — giving Analena the fright of her life. That’s when her brother Hernando Miguel Valdes, a production manager who worked with bands like Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers, gave her the idea to start a concert triage service.
“Hernando works in the music industry and told me about a group called Rock Med, which had been providing medical services at concerts out West for a whopping 37 years,” explains Analena. “After the plane crash, he wanted to try to keep me on the ground. He thought I could do on the East Coast what Rock Med had been doing out West.”
Along with four of her friends — Melissa O’Malley, Julia Grossman, Meia Raboteau and Jim Faris (pictured L to R on either side of Analena) — she took her brother’s advice and came up with a business plan modeled after the good work Rock Med had been doing out West. Rock Med director, Wes Fifield, encouraged her and offered many pearls of wisdom to fuel their success.
“All of us, except for Jim, are medical professionals with extensive backgrounds in nursing, critical care, disaster team coordination, mobile trauma units, training medical teams and implementing standards,” Analena shares. “Jim is an award-winning creative designer and musician whose experience in the world of music helps us round out the connection between music and medicine.”
MASH PIT also has a medical director — Dr. David Milzman — who adds his experience in trauma and emergency medicine at music and sporting events to the mix.
MASHing It Up
Analena explains that the name for their unique service was concocted one night when the founders were sitting in Jim’s basement drinking lots of coffee.
“We knew we wanted to provide mobile medical services. Meia, who is a captain in the Air Force Reserves said, ‘It’s like the M.A.S.H. tents we set up in the military,’ so we wrote down MASH. Then while Jim was looking to see if we could use that, Julia added, ‘We call those tents the pits.’ We wrote down PIT. The combination of those two words conjured up the image of the mosh pits that happen at rock concerts and the danger associated with them. A name for our service was born.”
MASH PIT also has a mission — one that centers on giving back in terms of service and money.
“MASH PIT donates 50% of its profits to organizations that support musicians,” Analena explains, noting that she’s currently working with Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which provides financial assistance to career musicians struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems.
Another recipient is the CAMMO Project (Center for American Military Music Opportunities), whose main objective is to build multiple centers where artists, writers and technicians in the military can live and work near their professional music industry counterparts.
On the Billboard
In the coming years, those charities will likely receive more donations from MASH PIT, for the organization is busy working shows throughout the summer.
In June, staff members were on hand for the Washington Folk Life Festival in Glen Echo, MD. Throughout July, the company has been hired by IMP Productions and the 9:30 Club to train the staff in CPR and other medical services. In August, MASH PIT will be working at two festivals in Michigan — the Dune Grass Festival, and Hoxeyville Music Festival. September will take them to Evolvefest, an annual music and yoga festival held in New Jersey.
Analena says another goal is to provide continuing education credit hours for nursing and medical students.
“We reach out to young people through school career days, for instance, to show them the different kinds of jobs available to people that love music,” she says. “We accept volunteers as young as 15 to help with traffic control and to distribute water and ear plugs. It’s a great way for them to see up close how certain behaviors at concerts can be dangerous and what the best way to be safe at a concert is. Ultimately, we would love to put medical people to work, offer scholarships, and internships.”
As for the future, this determined medical professional with a passion for music believes the sky is the limit for her growing company.
“My father was a journalist who loved what he did, and always told me that the day I woke up and didn’t like what I was doing anymore, was the day to start doing something new,” she shares. “I believe in this organization, and I want to be a good role model to young girls, especially Latina girls, who may not see all the opportunities for education and career that are available to them. I always tell them that if I can accomplish my dreams, they can, too.”
For more information, visit MASH PIT.