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Beline Obeid

Helispot takes off to council

November 01, 2012
By a vote of 6-2, the Grosse Pointe Woods planning commission approved a request by St. John Hospital and Medical Center to allow medical helicopter fl ights to land and take off from a designated area in the facility's north parking lot. The matter now goes to the city council, which has scheduled a public hearing for 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19. At issue is St. John's request to build a helistop that would accommodate about 40 flights per year carrying stroke victims from hospitals in Michigan's Thumb area. Hospital offi cials maintain the site would be temporary, as they are in negotiations with the city of Detroit to install a permanent site on the Moross side of the hospital's main building. The site in Grosse Pointe Woods would only be in place for one year, while St. John seeks fi nal approval from Detroit. The planning commission vote followed a Tuesday, Oct. 23, public hearing at which several Woods residents expressed concerns about the noise and disruption that the takeoffs and landings could cause. Many of the same residents were at a helicopter landing and takeoff demonstration conducted last week by St. John where Woods offi cials took decibel readings which indicated the noise barely exceeded the Woods' limit of 85 decibels. "We took readings at 168 feet from the landing site," Woods building official Gene Tutag told the commission, "and before the helicopter arrived, we had a reading of 55. During takeoff and landing, it was around 85. It spiked to 90 for about fi ve seconds, then back down to 87. Just for comparison, I took readings on the city's leaf blower and leaf picker. They both read 87 decibels." But Woods resident Carol Roszka, who has lived next to St. John for 34 years, warned a noise level of 85 decibels is the beginning of permanent hearing loss and reminded the commission St. John had helicopter service a few years ago. "It was noisy before and it is noisy now," she said. "This service is not for the benefi t of the citizens of Grosse Pointe Woods, but it's for nonresidents from Sandusky, Michigan. This is just so St. John can get greater market share." St. John is already accepting patients from the Thumb area. As it stands now, helicopter flights bringing those patients land at Detroit City Airport and the patient is transported to St. John via ambulance. The incentive in having the helicopters land directly at St. John is valuable time can be saved, which is imperative in the treatment of stroke victims. "We know during a stroke that nearly 35,000 brain cells are lost per second, so time is of the absolute essence," said Carrie Stover, St. John vice president. "Going by ground takes 90 minutes, whereas by air, it would take 45 minutes." Commission members raised concerns that if a helispot was open, fl ights servicing patients other than stroke patients might begin, raising the number of fl ights in and out of the facility. St. John offi cials could not guarantee an actual number, indicating it would be unethical to limit the number of fl ights. "We won't be flying patients in and out strictly for convenience," Stover said. "But I can't see one of our emergency room doctors saying no to a medical emergency fl ight because a set quota had been met." Also of concern is the helicopter's flight plan, with several residents and commission members questioning why the pilot could not take a set course, following the I-94 freeway to Moross, Moross to Mack, then approaching the north parking lot essentially from the corner of Mack and Moross. That flight path would not have helicopters flying over houses. Helicopter pilots from the company providing the service, Superior Air- Ground Ambulance Services, told the commission they follow a flight pattern protocol called "Fly Neighborly" which sets guidelines for noise abatement during flights over residential areas. Planning commission m e m b e r D o u g Hamborsky expressed skepticism over how closely that plan would be followed, and general skepticism over the entire project and asked several conditions be in place before approval is granted. "I would like to see a monthly report from St. John on the fl ights and what type of patients they involved," he said. "I want to make sure this isn't a 'bait and switch' situation, as their word is questionable according to some of the residents who spoke. "I also want to see a documented flight plan and I want to know how closely the pilot is following that. I'm an architect and I'm responsible for drawing up plans, and I know that the idiot swinging the hammer doesn't always get the message." In the end, the commission approved sending the request for a helispot to the city council by a vote of 6 to 2, with Carroll Evola and Mike Fuller d i s s e n t i n g . Commissioner Tonia Stapleton recused herself, citing her job with the city of Detroit's Board of Zoning Appeals.

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