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Helicopters and Hospitals

Landing helicopters on top of hospitals is not a good idea.

Landing a medical helicopter on a hospital landing pad can be a dangerous proposition under the best of conditions. Having a landing pad on top of your trauma center is flashy and exciting. All the TV shows do it! As we see in this story from the AP, when something goes wrong the outcome can be disastrous.

According to CNN, AP, and the local media coverage, Butterworth/Spectrum hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, endured a crash of a medical helicopter on the rooftop landing pad resulting in thick smoke and fire. According to the media reports several patient care floors had to be evacuated and power to the building had to be shut off. Surrounding roads and ground traffic were closed due to the threat of falling debris. According to available information at the time of this posting, there were no fatalities as a result of the helicopter crash. (Photo credit

Hospital trauma centers around the Nation utilize hundreds of air medical helicopter flights each bring trauma victims from emergency scenes to the trauma centers. There is little doubt that the appropriate use of air medical helicopters and trauma centers save lives that might otherwise be lost. Hospitals that have a need for air medical services can and should have designated landing pads (I think helispot is the correct term for those of you playing the NIMS home-game).

However, landing a helicopter ON TOP of a hospital is not a good never has been. This practice is flashy and dramatic, but not without risk. The crash at the Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids is a reminder of what can happen. As a result of this crash -several patient floors had to be evacuated -power to the hospital was disrupted -debris, smoke, and burning aviation fuel caused contamination and secondary hazard concerns, and roads were closed stopping surface traffic in the area. Beyond those issues, the "ripple effect" on a city or region include a drain on emergency response, surge issues on other hospitals as the Spectrum ED was closed (they are also the only level-one trauma center). Let's not forget that many major cities have hospitals in the in close proximity to other buildings and in the heart of the city.

Use air medical helicopters....yes, fly patients from rural areas to urban trauma centers...certainly, land the helicopter on the way. Landing in safe proximity to the hospital in a designated location is safer and can be nearly as efficient.

Consider the potential outcomes in the Grand Rapids crash and do a realistic risk/benefit analysis. The outcomes could have been much worse...and can be avoided.

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