Neighbors concerned, but saving time could save lives
It's been five years since Buena Vista Regional Medical Center had a helipad on its hospital campus. In 1999, the company that previously provided BVRMC with helicopter emergency services did not believe there was adequate space in the previous landing site behind the emergency room to operate safely.
To take advantage of the "Golden Hour" of critical response time that saves so many lives, the hospital is reconsidering emergency flight services to better serve the needs of trauma and cardiac patients. Just exactly where on the hospital property the helipad would be located could be a bone of contention among neighbors.
At a July 19 Storm Lake City Council meeting West Sixth residents objected to possible noise from helicopters, particularly if a landing site is built where the former hospital administrator's house is now located.
"We have a desire to get a helipad back on our campus," said CEO Todd Hudspeth Thursday. In the October BVRMC auxiliary newsletter, Hudspeth said the hospital was examining the area behind the emergency room or the roof above 2 West for possible siting of a helipad. "We expect either option will generate neighborhood opposition, but we feel having a helipad on campus is important for patient care," Hudspeth said in the newsletter.
The hospital has advertised for bids for the former administrator's house, with the provision that the structure be removed from hospital property. The area behind the emergency doors, the hospital roof, or other open areas could be considered for a landing site, Hudspeth said.
Neighbors have indicated their concerns about the hospital's proposal for an expanded parking lot plus the possibility of a helipad, particularly on the site currently occupied by the administrator's house.
Keith Schmidt, whose property borders the hospital's and who was spokesperson for West 6th and Pleasantview residents at the July meeting, at that time offered concern about a helipad.
"They were adamantly opposed to putting a helicopter pad on that location," Schmidt said of the administrator's house site.
Schmidt said he had spoken with BVRMC officials who had told him it was not their intention to build a helipad. "The hospital CEO, Todd Hudspeth, said they had abandoned plans for a helipad on the property that the administrator's house sits on," Schmidt said again Thursday.
City attorney Paul Havens has said a helipad would be a conforming use in the R-3 zone.
When he made the motion to approve the hospital's rezoning request, city council member Denny Vaudt said, "I'm not necessarily against a helicopter pad at the hospital, but I think the city should have something to say abut a helicopter pad."
The city has since revised the new zoning ordinance so that proposed helipads automatically require council review.
Hudspeth assured neighbors in July that the hospital intended to address their concerns.
"We want to be respectful of the neighbors," Hudspeth said again on Thursday.
Hudspeth said Thursday that bringing helicopters back to the hospital would "absolutely" improve response time, by up to 30 minutes, if ambulances did not have to transfer patients to the municipal airport. "If you're a heart attack patient... that half hour makes a difference," Hudspeth said.
Going behind the hospital would make a cost of about $5,000 while a rooftop landing zone would be $300,000, as a fire suppression system would be needed, Hudspeth said.