Overlook's Helipad Argument Doesn't Fly
Saturday, December 21, 2013 • 12:00am
The column on a proposed helipad by Robert Mulcahy III, Chair of the Overlook Medical Center Advisory Board, is a new spin on the same arguments that have been rejected by the Summit Zoning Board of Adjustment and Union County Superior Court.
Let's remember some basic facts. There is an efficient and safe system already in place that transports stroke patients to Overlook using both air and ground transportation. Overlook currently transports stroke patients by helicopter to its neuroscience center. During the daytime hours, a stroke patient coming by helicopter lands at Connell Office park just a few miles away. In the evening, they land at Morristown Municipal airport. These patients are then transported by ambulance the remaining few miles to Overlook.
As the zoning board and Judge Cassidy of the Superior Court found, the helipad will undoubtedly present safety risks, diminish the quality of life, and hurt property values for the 20,000 residents of Summit. Indeed, a medical helicopter is involved in a fatal crash every six weeks to eight weeks in the United States. The nearest neighbor lives just 325 feet from the proposed Overlook helipad – three times closer than the nearest neighbor at Morristown Memorial or St. Barnabas in Livingston.
The risk and reduced quality of life are unnecessary evils. Dr. Bryan Bledsoe, clinical professor of emergency medicine at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, testified in 2010 before the Zoning Board that the rule of thumb in the hospital industry is only to transport patients via helicopter when the distance is greater than 45 miles - even in a densely populated state like New Jersey. The time it takes to assess the weather, make arrangements with receiving hospitals and other logistical details reduces the speed advantage that helicopters have over ambulances.
Finally, despite Overlook’s claims that the helipad will be minimally used, there is nothing Summit can do to restrict this use once the helipad is constructed. Morristown residents were once told Morristown Memorial’s helipad would only be used twice per month. It is now used nearly twice per day. Helipads are normally used to transport trauma patients, such as victims of a nearby accident. If Overlook’s claimed purpose for the helipad is true, then it would be the first hospital in the United States to construct a helipad solely for the purpose of receiving stabilized stroke patients.
The judgments of Overlook's first two attempts are clear - the helipad is unnecessary. Now, Overlook is claiming “regional benefit” - ignoring the local zoning process they originally submitted to and the court that heard their appeal. Regionally, there are four comprehensive stroke centers within a short distance of Overlook.
This is wrong. Summit residents should write the NJ Department of Transportation Office of Community Relations at 1035 Parkway Avenue, PO Box 600 Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0600 to voice their concerns, and the Department should reject the helipad.
Kelly J. Deere, Esq.
Citizens Against the Helipad