Source: Grosse Pointe News Online

City questions landing

by Kathy Ryan Staff Writer

December 27, 2012

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — After what appeared to be an unauthorized landing of its medical helicopter, St. John Hospital and Medical Center officials said “it was a matter of life and death.”

At issue was the landing on the north parking lot the afternoon of Tuesday, Dec. 18, by a University of Michigan survival flight helicopter, one that is considerably larger than the EC135 model operated by Superior Air Ground Ambulance Services approved last month by the Grosse Pointe Woods city council.

The council approved the flights in and out of St. John for a period of six months, provided they were limited to no more than 25 flights during that time, that the helicopter be the EC135 model, and the pilot followed a flight plan stipulating the craft could not fly in over houses bordering the St. John property.

St. John had asked for permission to install a helistop in the north parking lot in an area in Grosse Pointe Woods pending construction of a permanent site on the roof of a parking deck located across from the hospital’s emergency room entrance and is in Detroit. According to St. John officials, the site’s construction is expected to be completed within six months. Grosse Pointe Woods, after listening to concerns brought forward by residents surrounding the hospital grounds about noise, granted approval for the temporary site, but with several conditions, including restrictions on the number of flights, the type of aircraft and flight patterns.

The landing on Dec. 18 was preceded by a similar flight the week before, and complaints came in that the approach by the helicopter on both dates did not follow the “fly neighborly” flight plan agreed to by St. John dictating the helicopter must approach the landing site from over Mack Avenue. The helicopter, a University of Michigan survival flight aircraft, also exceeded the noise level limit set in place by the Woods.

Carrie Stover, a St. John vice president, explained the hospital is being sensitive to the concerns of Woods residents, but both flights were used to transport gravely ill patients unable to be treated at St. John.

“Saving lives is our first priority,” she said. “One flight was for an 11-month old baby that our pediatric staff determined needed care we could not provide. Both flights were for patients with life threatening emergencies.”

According to Woods city administrator Al Fincham, the city has been in contact with St. John officials. Fincham said St. John followed many of the procedures put in place with the agreement, including notifying the city of incoming medical flights, but the city expressed its concerns to St. John about noise and the flight path.

He said St. John officials told him the landings were a result of “miscommunication” between the hospital and the U of M flight crew. In the past, the helicopter would land at City Airport, and patients were transferred by ambulance to the airport. The U of M flight crew believed it was cleared to land directly at the hospital. A St. John official said the hospital has been in contact with U of M, and instructed them that their flights were not allowed to utilize the temporary landing site.

“I’ve also been assured that St. John is moving quickly on getting the permanent site in place,” Fincham said. “They expect it to be in place before the six month deadline we set.”

In the meantime, Stover asked Woods residents to be patient.

“We are in the business of saving lives,” she said. “We’re trying to be sensitive to the needs of the residents and we’re trying to be a good neighbor, but our patients remain our No. 1 priority.”