The Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital’s new helipad is undergoing close scrutiny from various neighborhood associations due to the unexpectedly large volume of flights from the platform this month.
The helipad opened Feb. 3 under the expectation that the facility would see an average of two landings per week. After the hospital received five flights within a week, approximately 100 people from local organizations including the Oak Park Neighborhood Association, Samarkand Neighborhood Association and Upper East Association met with hospital officials Feb. 13 to protest the noise increase.
According to Cottage Hospital Spokesperson Janet O’Neill, the hospital limits the helipad’s use to only dire situations.
“We want the neighbors to know that we are here to save lives; we are not trying to disrupt their lives,” O’Neill said. “Each of these flights has been involving critical patients.”
O’Neill said the facility received five emergency flights between approximately 8 p.m. and 1 a.m., forcing two pilots to circle the surrounding neighborhoods and detour to the local airport to refuel while waiting for traffic on the platform to subside.
According to O’Neill, the hospital’s new emergency stroke and neonatal care facilities are responsible for the increased number of flights. However, O’Neill said some air ambulance companies failed to follow the hospital’s strict noise-reducing flight patterns.
“We need to make sure that the communication with the helicopter transporters is very clear,” O’Neill said. “If they do not follow the approved flight patterns or continue to hover over the neighborhoods, then there will be a suspension of landing privileges.”
Similar protocols exist to ensure safety when transporting patients by helicopter. According to Stophelipad.org — a website created in opposition to a similar hospital installation at San Francisco General Hospital — 15 of 54 nationwide helicopter crash fatalities in 2011 occurred during medical transports.
During the hospital’s request in 2001 to Santa Barbara officials for the helipad’s environmental impact review, many of the neighborhood associations petitioned for Goleta Cottage Hospital to receive the facility due to its location in a more commercialized area. However, California’s public utilities code prevents restrictions on potentially life-saving helicopter transports.
Santa Barbara City Councilmember Cathy Murillo — who attended the Feb. 13 meeting — said continued discussions between community members and the hospital are the best method to address the situation.
“The city has no control over the number of helicopter flights at Cottage Hospital, but I certainly understand the frustration the hospital’s neighbors are feeling,” Murillo said in an email. “I encourage city residents to continue communicating with Cottage about this impact on their home life.”
Although the hospital aims to address the community’s requests, O’Neill said the center holds medical treatment as its priority.
“We want to do what is appropriate, and we do not want to be disruptive, but we do want to save lives,” O’Neill said.
Cottage Hospital will host another meeting on March 13 to discuss issues with members of the community.