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March 27, 2013

Councilor raises concerns about hospital's heliport

William Ryan said some residents are fearful of an accident

HAVERHILL — Residents who live near Merrimack Valley Hospital have safety concerns about medical helicopters landing and taking off from a heliport there, City Councilor William Ryan told his colleagues last night.

“A lady who lives on Kennedy Circle told me a helicopter clipped a fence the other day and that she is frightened every time it comes down,” Ryan said.

Ryan initially wanted city inspectors and police to review the heliport to make sure it complies with safety regulations and to investigate whether there might be a better location for the landing area on the hospital property. He said a large medical building on the grounds was built near the helipad several years ago.

“There are fences and wires and that big medical building very close to the helipad,” Ryan said. “We know we need it, but maybe the time has come to move it or at least take a look at it.”

But Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien, who has worked as a nurse at the hospital for many years, convinced her colleagues to reach out to hospital administrators before looking for answers about the helipad from outside agencies.

“State regulators inspect the helipad regularly,” she said. “There are a lot of strict rules. You just can’t have a helipad.”

For instance, Daly O’Brien said police and firefighters stand watch over the landing area every time a helicopter lands or takes off.

“We should talk to the hospital to get our questions answered first,” Daly O’Brien said. “That would be the respectful thing to do.”

Daly O’Brien said the helipad has been at the same spot on the property since the hospital opened in 1984. She estimated helicopters land at the hospital with seriously injured patients two to five times per week on average.

“It’s part of the neighborhood fabric,” she said of the heliport.

Other councilors agreed with Ryan that there might be a better place on the property for the helipad, while Daly O’Brien stressed that it has to be very close to the hospital’s emergency room.

After the discussion, the council agreed to send hospital administrators a letter seeking more information about the helipad.

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