As many readers are already aware, Overlook Medical Center recently filed an application with the New Jersey Department of Transportation, seeking approval to build a helipad designed to expedite patient access to its premier Neuroscience Department. The hospital filed its application with the Department of Transportation after its prior variance application was rejected by the Summit Board of Adjustment—whose review was the necessary first step in obtaining a helipad license. Within the community of Summit there has been some rumbling that this latest action is a case of the hospital looking to circumvent the “ruling” of the town. Overlook made tremendous efforts to ensure the concerns of community residents were addressed. Unfortunately, those efforts continue to be lost in the debate.
Overlook is willing to put restrictions on the volume of flights and other aspects of the use of the helipad. This position has been made clear to neighbors who are concerned about the impact on the community. Residents in opposition to the helipad remain unwilling to accept the occasional flight, even in the face of life threatening situations.
In reality, Overlook’s request is not a Summit issue, but a regional transportation and medical one. While some residents may see the City of Summit Zoning Board’s decision as the final word, I wonder if they have carefully considered the fact that Summit residents already enjoy timely and immediate emergency access to Overlook Medical Center’s award winning Neuroscience Institute. At issue is the medical care of those who don’t live just down the street.
As of mid-November, only 35 Summit residents came to Overlook’s Emergency Department for stroke-related care this year (that’s 6% of Overlook Medical Center’s emergency stroke population), whereas 572 (94%) individuals came from outside of Summit. In addition to those stroke patients who come to the Emergency Department, an additional 237 patients were transferred to Overlook’s neuro intensive care unit from other hospitals. Of those, 30 (that’s three per month) were transported by air from hospitals more than 20 miles away. Those air transfers are required to land in neighboring towns, thereby adding critical time to life-saving treatment. The helipad is truly about the medical needs of the wider regional community-one that the NJ DOT is in a much better position to assess, given the lives at stake.
Robert E. Mulcahy, III
Chair, Overlook Medical Center Advisory Board
Board of Trustees, Atlantic Health System