Supervisor Introduces Resolution for UCSF Helipad

June 09, 2009
Contact: News Office (415) 502-6397

On June 9, 2009, San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Maxwell will introduce a resolution that, if passed, will allow for the operation of a helipad at the new UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay.

The location of the proposed hospital complex near San Francisco Bay is ideal for helicopter flights because the primary flight path will be over the water, reducing the impact of noise on residential neighborhoods.

"The proposed helipad at the new hospital will allow UCSF to speed the transport of critically ill children and high-risk pregnant mothers to UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay when it opens in 2014," said Mark Laret, chief executive officer of UCSF Medical Center. "It will allow UCSF to more rapidly care for the sickest patients and, in turn, will save many lives. As we prepare for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to vote on the helipad resolution next month, we ask you for your support of this critical measure."

Members of the campus community who live in San Francisco can show support for the helipad at the Medical Center at Mission Bay by signing up to become UCSF Advocates. UCSF Advocates is a growing group of alumni, faculty and staff who are making their voices heard on key issues and initiatives at the local, state and national levels.

More information about the need for a helipad at UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay can be found in this five-minute video, titled Critical Moments, Critical Care.

Providing Specialized Care

UCSF Children's Hospital is one of the highest-ranked pediatric centers in California, providing a range of health care services — from routine immunizations to the most advanced surgery for serious, life-threatening childhood diseases — to the children of San Francisco and beyond. Families come from afar to UCSF for this highly complex care, which is not available at community hospitals.

Providing rapid access to UCSF's specialized treatment is vital in some cases, such as when a baby is born with a life-threatening heart defect that requires immediate surgery to survive, or when a pregnant woman is diagnosed with severe preeclampsia that threatens her life and the life of her unborn child.

Today, seriously ill infants, children and high-risk pregnant women bound for UCSF are flown from remote hospitals to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) via airplane, with an onboard UCSF pediatric transport team providing care. From SFO, the UCSF team transfers the patients via ambulance to UCSF Children's Hospital on the Parnassus campus. Depending on the time of day, this trip can take more than half an hour — especially during peak traffic times.

"For the kinds of things that I take care of, 20 or 30 minutes is the difference between life and death," said Dr. Diana Farmer, UCSF Children's Hospital surgeon in chief, professor and the world's first female fetal surgeon. "Minutes count when you're talking about saving the life of a seriously ill baby."

UCSF leaders are hoping to reduce the travel time to lifesaving treatment by adding a helipad to the northernmost location — farthest away from residential neighborhoods — of the planned UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay.

Christa Thomas, patient care manager of the UCSF pediatric transport team, points out that the use of helipads at hospitals is standard practice. "Every major children's hospital in California has a helipad," she said. "We bring the expertise of UCSF to the bedsides of the patients, and then stabilize the patients until we can get them to UCSF."

Notably, the helicopter access to UCSF Children's Hospital at Mission Bay will be limited to the most critical and life-threatening situations, and will require a physician's approval before the helicopter is dispatched, said Roxanne Fernandes, executive director of UCSF Children's Hospital. "It will not be used for routine transport of stable patients, transport of patients to other UCSF facilities or non patient-related travel."

Addressing Community Concerns

UCSF conducted a rigorous community planning process to prepare for operation of the helipad, inviting members of the Mission Bay, Dogpatch and Potrero Hill neighborhoods to public meetings to discuss the plans and respond to neighbors' concerns.

In fact, the helipad site planning for UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay is guided by a number of objectives, including the desire to minimize impacts on the community and to comply with Federal Aviation Administration requirements, says Cindy Lima, executive director of the project.

As a result of the feedback from community members, UCSF changed the proposed location of the helipad by moving it as far north as possible to minimize helicopter noise for surrounding neighbors. UCSF also placed the elevator shaft to the south of the helipad to deflect sound away from the Dogpatch neighborhood, Lima said.

"UCSF also worked with neighbors to produce the Residential Sound Reduction Program [RSRP] for Helipad Operations," said Barbara Bagot-Lopez, associate director of UCSF's Community and Governmental Relations. "Through the RSRP, UCSF has committed to fund sound reduction improvements for residences that may be seriously impacted by helicopter noise."

Medical transport staff, pilots and helicopter noise consultants participated in meetings with neighbors to answer questions, and discussed how other communities are managing their relationships with hospital helipads.

In response to a request by Mission Bay neighbors, UCSF conducted a helicopter flight test in October 2007 and gathered noise measurement data from seven different locations. The data were used to inform the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay. The EIR identified a number of measures to reduce the noise impacts, which helped inform the Residential Sound Reduction Program.

The EIR analyzed a helipad at the hospital site with transports projected to average 1.4 per day, 40 per month and 500 per year. These projections are well within the average for other children's hospitals that are not trauma centers, and include neonatal, pediatric and maternal patients.

As always, safety is a top priority for patients, transport teams and community members. The UCSF Children's Hospital transport program has an excellent safety record.

And because UCSF is not a trauma center, UCSF is able to consider distance, weather and patient condition before determining the best mode of transport: airplane, helicopter or ground. UCSF plans to define preestablished safety criteria — such as which weather conditions must exist in order to take off or land at UCSF — with contracted medical helicopter transport companies.

Related Links:

Children's Hospital Helipad Fact Sheet

Residential Sound Reduction Program: Community Process Summary (pdf)

UCSF Engages Community at Mission Bay

UCSF and Community Work Together to Address Concerns About Proposed Helipad