The Storm Lake City Council Monday night agreed to a test landing by a Mercy Air Care helicopter outside the Buena Vista Regional Medical Center emergency room to determine whether it would be feasible to again allow helicopters to land on the hospital campus.
It was just a little over a year ago, July 19, 2004, when BVRMC CEO Todd Hudspeth appeared before the Council to request rezoning from R-1 to R-3, a multifamily dwelling district that at that time allowed helipads as a hospital related use. At that time, City Attorney Paul Havens said the Council could not place special limitations on helipads according to R-3 zoning as it was written then.
The city since revised its ordinances to allow helipads only as a special use in R-3 areas which include medical facilities.
Considering the ordinance revision, City Administrator John Call said at Monday's Council meeting that the hospital campus was not currently zoned properly to allow a helipad. If the test landing should prove suitable, Call said the hospital would have to apply to the Storm Planning and Zoning Commission then the Board of Adjustment for a change.
The Council was mixed in its reaction.
"I think it certainly justified a test run," said Councilperson Jim Treat.
Councilperson Julie Egland differed.
"A year ago we were told there wouldn't be a helipad out there," Egland said. "The credibility of it doesn't suit me."
Councilperson Wally Burns also opposed the test landing for the same reasons that Egland cited.
Hudspeth said at the Council meeting last July 19, "Technically, we are currently able to land a helicopter anywhere else on the hospital campus zoned R-3."
Vaudt said helicopters were critical in cutting the response time for patients. "This is one of those issues where it's kind of hard," Vaudt said. "It's not an easy question. I'm not opposed to a test run to see how it goes, what it sounds like. It's hard to turn this down."
Hudspeth said that at his last visit to the Council, meaning last July 19, that BVRMC was considering a helipad at the street level. Due to neighborhood concerns, Hudspeth said Monday night that option had been abandoned. Since then, he said an area outside the emergency room area had been considered. Hudspeth said if Mercy Air Care found the area acceptable, the hospital would move forward with a helipad.
When Vaudt asked about the option of a helipad landing zone on the roof, Hudspeth said the roof option would cost an additional $300,000-and create more noise than it would outside the emergency room. If the helipad were approved, Hudspeth said the helicopter would touch down and cut its engine before evaluating and transporting the patient. Hudspeth said neighbors within a two-block area would be notified of the proposed test landing.
Mayor Jon Kruse saw medical benefits as did Councilperson Jim Treat who called the first hour of trauma "the most crucial."
Hudspeth said the additional time it now takes to transport patients from the hospital to the airport by ambulance "eats up about a third" of the "golden hour", or the first hour of trauma. He said there are also a number of infants who need air transport to St. Luke's neonatal unit.
The Council approved the test landing, with Councilperson Wally Burns opposed.