It’s been almost three months since Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital opened its helipad for transport of critically ill patients, and on Tuesday, hospital officials gave the City Council an update on their response to neighborhood concerns about related noise.
The helipad opened Feb. 3, and since then aircraft have transported 38 patients, including eight critically ill children, nine trauma patients and 21 stroke victims.
But the first week saw more transports than anyone expected, including five landings within a 90-minute period, alarming nearby neighbors. Thirteen people were transported that first week.
“That first week was incredibly impactful,” said Ron Werft, president and CEO of Cottage Health System.
When the environmental impact report was approved in 2005, two flights a week were projected.
“We were as surprised as anyone in the activity we saw in that first week,” Werft told the council.
As he has stressed during the public meetings, Werft said that only trauma patients, critically ill children or stroke victims meet the criteria for helicopter transport to the hospital.
A joint commissioned certified stroke center also has been approved since the EIR was performed, resulting in an increase in flights.
Werft said the hospital is doing its part to make sure helicopter pilots operate properly. Notice has been sent to 18 helicopter operators across the state of the hospital’s helicopter policy. The hospital has also tightened up its policy since the helipad began operating.
No departure or return for refueling is permitted now, as well as no orbiting over the neighborhood, which did occur during the early weeks of operation. Werft said that one helicopter company has even had its landing privileges terminated.
He showed the City Council a sample helicopter video, and noted that one is taken of each landing that occurs. The video was noticeably mute, however, and didn’t have any sound, a fact noted by members of the public and Councilwoman Cathy Murillo.
Werft responded that the video camera, which is permanently mounted to the building, doesn’t record audio.
“We still have a long way to go on this project,” he said, adding that another five years of construction remain going forward.
The hospital will hold four neighborhood meetings a year, up from the two required in the project’s conditions of approval, according to Werft.
In the end, it seemed that more Cottage Hospital officials turned out to the meeting than the handful of members of the public who spoke out against the noise.
One of those people was Beth Bailey, who asked about rezoning the north side of the 500 block of Junipero Street from residential to commercial office space to provide a buffer between hospital and nearby homes. She said that this part of Junipero Street has transformed dramatically over the past five years.
“What was once an area of gentle transition between the Oak Park neighborhood and Cottage Hospital is now a bustling corridor” servicing the hospital, she said.
Another issue raised during issue public comment wasn’t the noise from the helipad, but the hospital’s child care center and the hospital’s loading dock.
“The helicopter noise is nothing compared to the daycare center,” one neighbor said. “They’ve ruined our peace and privacy.”
Werft said he believes the hospital has been a good neighbor, and that the most disruptive process is behind them.
“The only representation you haven’t heard here today is the 38 patients whose lives have been saved,” Werft said, thanking the city.
The hospital has held two outreach meetings to the public since the helipad began operating and plans to hold another on May 15. The hospital is also encouraging members of the public that have concerns about the helipad to call its hotline at 805.569.8917.