UCSF and Community Work Together to Address Concerns About Proposed Helipad at Mission Bay

By Shipra Shukla As part of an ongoing effort to work closely with the community during each phase of the design and building of the new UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, the University is changing the location of its proposed helipad and voluntarily conducting a helicopter test flight on October 21. "We're responding to community concerns and moving the location of the proposed helipad from the middle of the site to the northernmost location," said Barbara Bagot-Lopez, associate director of Community Relations. Leading up to the test flight early Sunday morning, UCSF has facilitated two helicopter test flight planning meetings with community volunteers, in addition to its regular community meetings, to share progress, solicit feedback, answer questions and discuss concerns. Neighbors and City and County of San Francisco officials are being notified of the process in a number of ways, including a half-page color ad on the back cover of the Potrero View, postings on web boards and emails to 500 residents. The goal of the test flight is to allow community members to hear and see the helicopter as it approaches and leaves the site, and to collect data in an effort to measure and analyze noise levels. At the community's request, a community member from the nearby Dogpatch neighborhood will join a pilot from REACH Air Medical Services in the helicopter during the test flight. "We express appreciation to neighbors who've volunteered their decks and roofs for the sound data collection process," said Bagot-Lopez. The proposed use of helicopters at the new medical center at Mission Bay would be in the most critical and life-threatening situations. These might include a newborn with a serious heart defect that needs immediate surgery to survive or a child who has gone into septic shock with organ failure and who may die within hours, UCSF Medical Center officials say. The helicopter will not be used for routine transport of stable patients or transporting patients from UCSF to other facilities. All patients with emergency, but less serious, conditions will be transported to UCSF by ground ambulances. Christa Thomas, program manager of the UCSF Children's Hospital transport team, recalled a recent need for a helipad. "We had a mom with a complicated pregnancy who would have normally come to UCSF, but went into early labor and had to deliver at a small, rural hospital on the California coast. It only had minimal equipment and no pediatrician on site," said Thomas. "Even though this small, rural hospital had a helipad, we didn't, so we had to dispatch our neonatal team by ground ambulance. By the time we arrived, the baby was an hour old and had started seizing due to oxygen deprivation. Ultimately, the baby passed away." The use of helipads is standard practice. "Every major children's hospital in California has a helipad," she said. "We bring the expertise of UCSF to the bedside of the patient and then stabilize the patient until we can get them to UCSF." The helipad site planning is guided by several key objectives, at the forefront of which is a desire to minimize impact on the community and comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements. Three ways that noise will be reduced are: 1) by developing flight routes which are over the San Francisco Bay , 2) building the helipad at the northernmost location of the planned hospital building and 3) placing the elevator shaft to the south of the landing pad to deflect sound away from the Dogpatch neighborhood. Current estimates place the number of flights at approximately 1.5 flights per day, on average. Diane Wong, senior planner, UCSF Campus Planning, is part of the UCSF team leading the helipad planning and construction project. "We're hoping Sunday demonstrates our good faith efforts to work with the community," she said. "We'll use the data that comes out of this to inform the environmental impact report that we're preparing." The environmental impact report analyzes the noise level and vibration data collected during Sunday's flight. It will be presented to the UC Regents and will be available for public review. Following approval from the Regents, the helipad proposal portion of the Mission Bay project will go to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and then to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Aeronautics division. UCSF is also required to obtain FAA airspace determination to ensure that the proposed flight paths are clear and meet dimensional requirements. "I'm very pleased with the work we've done with our Mission Bay neighbors," said Cindy Lima, executive director of the project. "It's not that our meetings aren't 'lively' at times, but that's just a reflection of the passion on all sides - to do the best we can for our patients and, simultaneously, do right by the community. We've already made several changes to our plans, based on community feedback and concerns." A major difference between the test flight on Sunday and flights of the future is that the buildings have not yet been constructed. The actual helipad would be located on the roof. On Sunday, the helicopter will land on and take off from the ground, a factor UCSF planning officials hope the community will keep in mind. Related Links: UCSF to Build World-Class Medical Center at Mission Bay