Helipad proposal under fire

Harrison Medical Center wants to construct a new heliport in the southwest corner of its Silverdale campus, but four Tracyton Boulevard residents are concerned for the safety of drivers and pedestrians at the nearby Ridgetop Boulevard and Myhre Road intersection.

The Kitsap County hearing examiner granted a conditional use permit to Harrison in early September last year, but by Sept. 27, 2005, residents had filed an appeal of that decision.

At a hearing Monday they once again presented their worries.

“The heliport pad is 32 feet away from that sidewalk (on Ridgetop Boulevard),” said John M. Taylor, a resident of Tracyton Boulevard who spearheaded the appeal he and neighbors filed with the county. “That’s our No. 1 concern. And a 6-foot fence isn’t going to do a thing.”

Harrison’s plan includes relocating the existing sidewalk and erecting sight-obscuring fences along Ridgetop Boulevard and Myhre Road to minimize the impact to traffic, according to report documents filed with the county.

Taylor and his neighbors do not consider these measures adequate, however, and would like the heliport located north of Harrison’s existing buildings in Silverdale.

“In the hospital’s original master plan, the helipad was on the north side of the existing parking lot,” Taylor said.

Don Thornton, Harrison’s vice president of operations, said locating the helicopter landing on the northern part of the campus would be in the way of future expansion and construction of the facility.

“The appropriate location is closer to the emergency department,” Thornton added.

He said that the heliport’s construction in the vicinity of Harrison is a necessity.

“It’s a logical location for a helipad because there’s no existing helipad in the CK Fire & Rescue area,” Thornton said.

Taylor and his co-appellants, Robert and Sharon Schneidler, F.W. and J.R. Worthington, and Ellen Schupay, agree there ought to be a safer designated spot for the Airlift Northwest’s helicopter to land in Central Kitsap than the Kitsap Mall’s parking lot, which now averages 50 emergency airlifts annually.

“I think it’s stupid where it is now,” Taylor said. “I’m surprised no one’s gotten killed. That’s not a safe place and neither is this.”

According to plans, the helicopter would fly to the proposed heliport from the direction of Costco, crossing over Myhre Road alone, not over Ridgetop, which has the residents involved with the appeal process worried about the noise pollution, as well as safety, for commuters at the intersection.

Harrison representatives, though, contend the noise is not that great and it is a small price to pay when improving the recovery chances of accident victims and other patients.

First responders concurred at county-hosted hearings on the proposed landing area project.

“(The proposed helipad location) actually increases safety and reduces transport time,” said Bill Minks, Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue fire inspector, in a phone interview Monday. “Just the time factor greatly increases survivability. In the golden hour every minute counts.”

Access to a trauma center within the first 60 minutes after a traumatic life-threatening injury significantly improves the likelihood for survivability and maintained quality of life after recovery, he explained.

In the mall’s parking lot lurk dangers in the shape of electric and lamp posts and telephone wires. Often the victims of trauma need to be transported to Harrison’s Silverdale building to be stabilized before an ambulance takes them back to the mall for the helicopter ride to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where they can receive level 1 trauma services.

Harrison Silverdale was not constructed as a trauma center. It is Harrison’s Bremerton building that has the best area emergency department services — a level 3 trauma center.

In Bremerton, Harrison has a heliport on the roof of the emergency department, but the Silverdale building, focused on women and children services and same-day outpatient surgery, was not designed to accommodate helicopter landings. The mall’s parking lot became the emergency landing site.

“Five years ago when the hospital (in Silverdale) opened up that was OK, but the mall is getting busier,” said Patti Hart, spokeswoman for Harrison.

In 2005, Airlift Northwest flew patients from the Kitsap Mall’s parking lot to Harborview 46 times. Of those, 28 were Harrison patients with the rest transported directly to Seattle.

If constructed at the Harrison Silverdale location, the $80,000 grasscrete-surface heliport would be used primarily for transporting patients who are in need of services they cannot receive from Harrison’s trauma centers.

“The helicopter is very expensive to operate and it requires highly, highly, highly skilled nurses (and staff),” Hart said. “It’s not the way you want to transport patients unless the patient absolutely needs the level 1 trauma services at Harborview.”

Thornton, however, anticipates the numbers of flights to increase in years to come as the CK population grows and Harrison expands its Silverdale campus and the services it offers. Increased helicopter traffic is another one of the concerns Taylor and his fellow appellants site in their objections.

Patty Lent, district 3 commissioner, said one of the questions that came up during Monday’s hearing was whether Harrison would be using the heliport for its own purposes, as opposed to EMS-related transports alone. The commissioners delayed their decision-only vote on the appeal until March 13.

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