Friday, July 31, 2015

City must grant approval for new Meriden Life Star hangar, sound to be evaluated

Hartford Hospital and Midstate Medical Center staff members stand in front of Life Star and Midstate's new stretcher. The new stretcher is fully compatible with Life Star and would allow patients with ST-elevated myocardial infarctions to be transferred to Hartford Hospital quicker.

Meriden, Connecticut — Hartford Healthcare officials said Friday that noise wouldn’t be an issue for nearby neighborhoods with the addition of a Life Star helicopter base at MidState Medical Center.

The hospital does not need further approval for the base, which could be established as soon as late next week. Plans for a permanent hangar, however, would require local approval, City Planner Dominick Caruso said Friday.

“Noise will be one of the items to be evaluated during this procedure,” Caruso responded, when asked if increased helicopter noise will be discussed.

Though Life Star occasionally lands at MidState Medical Center, a base at the hospital could mean more frequent traffic. Life Star, administered by Hartford Healthcare, is working closely with the city, said Hartford Healthcare spokeswoman Rebecca Stewart. In a filing with the state, Hartford Healthcare estimated the new base will cost $1.5 million.

“We have had preliminary meetings with town officials and are submitting plans to the planning and zoning boards soon,” she said, noting that there have been no noise complaints at other Life Star hangars.

Life Star operates two helicopters stationed on the roof of Hartford Hospital and William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. Next Friday, a new base will be established at MidState Medical Center. Stewart said the move will provide Life Star a more central location and wider reach. Though the helicopter will be housed at MidState Medical Center, it will still fly patients to Hartford Hospital’s trauma center.

It will be at least a year before a hangar is built at MidState Medical Center, said hospital spokeswoman Pamela Cruz. In the interim, the helicopter will be stationed in a grassy area near the Pavilion D parking lot.

The helicopter model to be housed as MidState Medical Center is an American Eurocopter EC-145. Stewart said the noise level of this model is “6.5 decibels below the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization.”

“We have not received complaints at our other hangars,” she said. “In fact, some neighbors have reached out to tell us how proud they are when they hear Life Star – knowing that someone somewhere needs our help.”

When flying conditions permit, Life Star crews make an effort to minimize flight time over residential neighbors, choosing a path over highways or other areas “already dominated by transportation such as buses, cars and trucks,” Stewart added.

MidState Medical Center is bordered by residential developments to the north. There are also residential developments to the east, as well as the state police forensics lab. Westfield Meriden mall borders the hospital to the west with Interstate 691 to the south. The hospital has a total footprint of seven acres, and is built on a 51-acre lot, according to city records. It’s unclear where the hangar will be built, but the area where Life Star will be stationed starting next Friday is set back from the road and partially surrounded by trees.

The city has a noise ordinance that limits decibel levels differently in residential, commercial and industrial zones. MidState Medical Center is in a regional development district, the purpose of which is “to further the economic base of the city by providing for development of regional scale along the interstate highway system, in an attractive, efficient, environmentally sensitive campus setting,” Caruso said. “I believe we have kept to the stated purpose and will continue to do so.”

There are exemptions to the noise ordinance, such as for emergency vehicles or any emergency, as well as noise created by flight preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration. Caruso did not say whether Life Star fell under any of these exemptions. But Life Star already lands at the hospital and under regulations for the regional development district heliports are allowed.

Hartford Healthcare’s Life Star service is licensed by the Office of Emergency Medical Services, which is part of the state Department of Public Health. The state conducts regular inspections of equipment and ensures that crew members are licensed or certified, said William Gerrish, spokesman for the state Department of Public Health.

In June, Hartford Healthcare submitted a certificate of need form to the department describing its proposal to add a new Life Star base. The department informed Hartford Healthcare on July 27 that a certificate of need isn’t required. If it was required, Hartford Healthcare would have to prove why a new base is necessary. For example, in 2007, Hartford Healthcare proposed to purchase a new helicopter in order to replace an aging helicopter. The state determined a certificate of need was necessary. Hartford Healthcare explained why a new helicopter was necessary, and in 2008, the state Department of Public Health approved the certificate of need.

Gerrish noted that federal law exempts states from regulating certain aspects of air medical operations, meaning the state “does not have jurisdiction over the proposed move of Life Star to a new base of operations.”

A Life Star crew consists of a nurse, flight respiratory therapist, pilot, mechanic and communication specialist. The critical care service is available to all patients within a 150-mile radius of bases. 

According to Hartford Healthcare, approximately 1,200 patients are transported by Life Star annually. Life Star began operating in the state in 1985, and has since transported more than 30,000 patients.. Each Life Star helicopter can carry two patients at once, and can travel at 155 miles per hour. In June, Life Star crews began carrying blood products in order to perform blood transfusions when necessary.


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