A helipad for trauma patients was implemented as part of recent hospital improvements and has been in operation since Feb. 3. Since then, 20 landings have taken place, and several neighbors asked the council on Tuesday for relief from the noise from the flight path.
The number of transports has been higher than expected, according to a statement from Cottage Hospital.
Resident Patricia Clark asked about updating the hospital’s environmental impact report regarding its trauma center and pediatric intensive care unit. She also expressed concern about the safety impact of having a helicopter land in a residential neighborhood.
“Apparently, the helicopter pilots have been told to be very mindful of the fact that there’s an MRI located in that building, which can screw up their navigational equipment,” she said. “I find that very disturbing.”
City Attorney Steve Wiley said the hospital’s EIR couldn’t be updated because it’s essentially a planning document.
“It’s a prediction,” he said. “It estimates what the number of flights may be. Once that project has been approved, it really isn’t feasible to revisit the document.”
Wiley said one alternative may be to factor in a new baseline of helicopter trips to any new approvals needed from the city on other hospital projects.
Tim King, a Quintos Street resident, had even gone so far as to call council members in the middle of the night when he heard helicopters overhead.
“It was totally frustrating to live in a house that we have for 20 years and have our neighborhood sound like the movie Apocalypse Now,” he said. “I hope the city didn’t give away all its power to Cottage Hospital to run this thing.”
King said that Cottage had been very gracious at its last community meeting, “but if you read between the lines, they’re big business and they’re going to make big money doing this.”
Cottage spokeswoman Janet O’Neil said the hospital is continuing to work with out-of area helicopter companies to ensure they understand the approved inward and outward flight path, which runs up and down the Highway 101 corridor and turns in at Junipero.
Pilots are to advise the hospital of their estimated times of arrival, not to refuel and then return to pick up the crew, and are to understand that there’s no hovering permitted in the area, O’Neil said.
“If it ever should be necessary for them to wait to land, they should do that out over the ocean or divert to SB Airport,” she said, adding that the frequency of landings appears to be leveling off, and has decreased from 11 landings during the first week to four last week. “We’re doing our best to save lives while respecting neighborhood concerns for noise.”
The hospital held a public forum on Feb. 13 to discuss the helicopter activity and plans to hold another at 6 p.m. March 13 in the Burtness Auditorium at the hospital. Anyone with questions or comments can call Cottage’s project management hot line at 805.569.8917.