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Ahee

Medical flights ruffle residents


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February 14, 2013
GROSSE POINTE WOODS - The city council, reacting to complaints from residents, will seek answers from St. John Hospital and Medical Center as to why it is not adhering to guidelines regarding medical helicopter flights.

The council asked City Administrator Skip Fincham to meet with officials from St. John in order to determine why the hospital has violated several terms of their agreement, including disregarding mandated flight paths and failing to notify the city when landings were scheduled.

To date, four landings have occurred and residents living near the complex have complained of the noise and their belief mandated flight paths would route the helicopters away from houses have not been followed.

Residents also complained the size of the helicopters involved exceed the smaller, quieter helicopters they were originally told would be used in the flights.

Fincham told the council, meeting Monday night as a committee of the whole, he was in contact with officials from St. John and was told there had been a misstep in communication among St. John personnel.

That did not sit well with several council members.

"This is not fair to our residents," said Todd McConaghy. "I think St. John needs to be told that we won't permit them to violate the rules and we need some discussion as to how we can move forward within the terms of the agreement."

In November, the Woods and St. John entered into an agreement giving the hospital permission to use its north parking lot for medical flights. The site is temporary, pending the construction by St. John of a permanent site on the roof of the parking deck located next to the facility's emergency room entrance. The agreement was for six months and limited the number of flights during that time to 25.

According to a spokesperson for St. John, plans for the rooftop site are moving forward and the construction is scheduled to be completed well within the six month time frame.

She also noted that of the two flights that occurred in February, one followed the mandated flight path, while the other was forced to alter its approach due to high winds. Both of the helicopters involved were the approved size.

St. John had first proposed the idea of a temporary site in August 2012. At that time, it brought in a medical helicopter for a demonstration for Woods city officials. Concerned about the noise and disruption these flights could cause to residents, Woods officials asked for a second demonstration in October at which time several city employees were stationed throughout the surrounding neighborhood with decibel readers to measure the sound impact. At that time, few readings exceeded the 85 decibel limitation set by city ordinance.

Fincham said he and Gene Tutag, Woods building director, will meet with St. John officials this week and expects to report back to council at its Monday, Feb. 25, meeting.

This is not the first time Grosse Pointe Woods and St. John have been at odds over helicopter flights. In November 1987, the city went to court to stop flights that had begun that fall. The flights were eventually suspended by St. John.

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