Residents assail Union Memorial helipad plan

January 09, 2007|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

More than 100 Baltimore residents voiced opposition to plans for the construction of a helicopter landing pad at Union Memorial Hospital at a community meeting last night, saying the anticipated noise and safety concerns would affect their quality of life.

Hospital officials said an on-site helipad is necessary in the competitive world of cardiac health care. The helipad would be used primarily for bringing patients in cardiac arrest to the hospital's Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Heart Institute and those with crushed or severed hands to its Curtis National Hand Center.

The helicopters would follow a primary flight path over 33rd Street to the hospital at University Parkway and Calvert Street.

Currently, the hospital uses a helipad near the water treatment plant at Lake Montebello, but officials say it can take 20 to 30 minutes for a patient to arrive at the hospital in an ambulance after landing. Officials said the hospital typically receives one to five heart patients a week and three hand patients a month by helicopter.

"It's not a viable option to have an off-site helipad," said Dr. John Wang, chief of the hospital's Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory. "Twenty minutes when dealing with heart patients is literally the difference between life and death."

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents the area and organized last night's meeting at University Baptist Church, said she shares many of the community's concerns and is hopeful that the city Planning Commission, which is set to decide on the helipad proposal at a hearing in February, will be responsive.

Norman R. Dotti, an acoustic engineer hired by the hospital, said he conducted a three-day noise test at six locations near the hospital in March and determined the helicopters would produce between 75 and 90 decibels, comparing that to the sound of a passing ambulance siren at between 100 and 120 decibels.

Some residents questioned the ability of a helicopter pilot to find a landing site in the event of a flight emergency.

"You're talking about my life, my house, my family," said Charles Jefferies, 41, of Guilford. "If that thing crashes, where does it go?"

A hospital official's statement that one of the possible flight plans - which would allow the helicopter to fly in the path of Charles Street - was scrapped after "feedback from Johns Hopkins University" brought boos, hisses and shouts of "Why? Cause they got money?"

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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