Helipad construction started | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Helipad construction started

Robert Stern

Barton Memorial Hospital has started construction on its new helipad and completion is expected in October, said Richard Belli, director of facilities for Barton.

Unlike the old helipad, the new pad will comply with Federal Aviation Administration and California Department of Transportation standards. Air ambulances are now forced to land at the Lake Tahoe Airport, unless otherwise authorized by the hospital’s head physician due to critical circumstances.

“(The city) is allowing us to land in emergency situations at our existing site until the new helipad is built,” Belli said.

The loophole could cause a potential liability for the city if an accident were to occur.

“Whenever the city allows somebody to do something that is outside of state regulation or the regulations of a specific agency that has jurisdiction, we are opening the door for some liability,” said City Attorney Catherine DiCamillo.

The new pad funded by Barton, a nonprofit hospital, will cost in excess of $800,000 and have a larger glide path that will enable safe landings for air ambulances.

Care Flight, based out of Reno and Gardnerville, is the only air ambulance service willing to land at the existing pad, but the new helipad will be suitable for all air ambulance services. Care Flight averages between 100 to 150 flights to Barton per year, said John Morrison, Care Flight director.

The air ambulance service is used primarily in trauma cases in which patients need to be transferred to Washoe Medical Center in Reno or points further such as Davis, Calif., or San Francisco.

“It’s mainly for trauma patients to give them the best possible care and the most expeditious care possible,” Belli said.

The new pad will be the hospital roof and will accommodate one helicopter up to 52 1/2 feet long. Patients will be protected from the elements by a canopy and can be transferred inside the hospital through access on the second floor. A heating system will keep snow and ice from accumulating on the helipad.

The existing helipad does not meet minimum requirements because of limited landing space, which is compounded by the difficulties associated with high altitude flying. But no accidents have occurred since the helipad was constructed 30 years ago, Bill Gordon, chief executive officer of Barton, said last April.

Much debate has swarmed over the helipad, and Barton Hospital has been granted several extensions for use of the helipad by the City to facilitate expeditious medical care. City Council granted the last extension in April after the helipad was closed for nearly five months when the previous extension expired.

Medical officials protested, saying closure of the helipad significantly impeded their ability to grant the best possible care to patients, but no patients’ health was compromised during the closure.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.