A rooftop helicopter landing pad will be added back into Bartlett Regional Hospital's nearly $42 million expansion project after Juneau Assembly members and hospital representatives agreed Wednesday to pursue creative funding options.
Because of fiscal constraints, the hospital took the helicopter landing pad out of its Project 2005 expansion. But the Assembly Finance Committee on Wednesday agreed by a nod of heads that the helipad is necessary, directing the hospital to move forward with the $100,000 design.
Finance Chairwoman Cathy Munoz said the city and the hospital will research funding for the $1 million construction cost.
"We heard from communities all over Southeast about the importance of having the facility as part of the reconstruction," she said. "It's a critical piece for health and safety and emergency situations."
The hospital expansion will build over the current ground-level helipad, according to Bartlett administrator Bob Valliant. The hospital's board already scaled back the expansion project, and further cuts would hurt hospital services, he said.
"The board made a lot of hard decisions arriving at $41.7 million," he said.
Capital City Fire and Rescue EMS trainer Anjela Johnston said the department's flight medic crews flew into Juneau's hospital 56 times last fiscal year. It takes 20 minutes to move patients from the airport to the hospital and such transfers tie up additional staff that might be needed elsewhere, she said.
Bartlett recorded 88 helicopters landing at the hospital with patients from last August to this August. Of that number, 33 had emergency medical personnel on board, Valliant said.
Assembly member Don Etheridge said he is tired of increasing costs on city projects.
"It's the same thing we see time after time after time. It's getting really frustrating," he said. "Pardon the expression, but the turd is dropped in our pocket. It's our fault we're not getting a heliport."
Assembly member Ken Koelsch said the community needs to address the funding questions if it wants a heliport.
"The bottom line is that if we want a heliport, it's up to us to figure out how to get it," he said.
Assembly member Marc Wheeler suggested the city and the hospital work together to find funding.
"If somebody gets his arm cut off in a logging camp, minutes count," he said. "If we don't keep a helipad, we're doing a disservice to Southeast Alaska."
According to City Finance Director Craig Duncan, funding for the helipad could come from sales tax revenues, federal timber receipts, revenue from helipad use or cruise ship passenger fees. With interest rates for the project bond decreasing, lower debt service costs also could free up funding, he added.
According to the hospital, Project 2005 will increase the number of patient beds, improve the obstetrics unit, add to the capacity in the critical care unit and expand the waiting areas at the emergency and radiology departments at Bartlett. The city is contributing $20 million in sales tax revenue for the improvements. The rest of the funding will come from hospital revenues.
Joanna Markell can be reached at email@example.com.
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