TWINSBURG: Officials say complaints of noise and vibration caused by emergency medical helicopters have tapered off since the Cleveland Clinic issued a NOTAM, or “Notice to Airmen,” outlining a preferred flight pattern that minimizes exposure to residential neighborhoods.
“There are times they may have to deviate due to wind and weather,” clinic spokeswoman Heather Phillips said, “but to our knowledge it has cut down on complaints.”
But at least one resident said she’s simply stopped calling about the early morning runs that wake her from a dead sleep.
Mary Shealey, who lives in Twinsburg Township, said she hears the helicopters almost every day. Some have rattled the objects hanging on her home’s walls.
“The noon [trips] don’t bother me so much,” she said, but the 5:30 a.m. visits are frustrating.
Twinsburg Community Development Director Larry Finch said the city is no stranger to emergency medical helicopters. The birds visit University Hospitals Twinsburg Health Center on Commons Boulevard, and Life Flight transports patients from medical facilities in the city to?MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.
From time to time, residents have complained about their noise.
But the number of complaints grew by a couple dozen or more from the city, township and neighboring Macedonia after the Cleveland Clinic decided to move its helicopter from Medina Hospital to its Twinsburg Family Health and Surgery Center at state Route 91 and Interstate 480.
“I think people are now just more sensitive to it because the clinic has a helicopter parked there” as opposed to aircraft that is just passing through, Finch said.
While in Medina, the helicopter drew fire from the neighborhood, but Phillips said that was understandable because the hospital was surrounded by houses.
In Twinsburg, the pad is not near homes and she indicated surprise that objections have been raised.
“It’s a very different setting here,” she said. “There’s a lot of space out there and when we made the decision [to move it to Twinsburg], that was something we took into consideration.”
Phillips said about 30 percent of the people who visit the emergency clinic have to be transported to a hospital, and the great majority are taken by ambulance.
“But when lives are hanging in the balance, when every minute counts to get them to the hospital,” the helicopter is indispensable, she said.
Still, the clinic has been working with the city and township to identify specific complaints “to look to see if we can improve and be good neighbors,” Phillips said.
Township Manager Robert Kagler said he started collecting complaints last fall.
They mostly came “from two areas where the helicopters were flying low at all hours and odd hours, close to the ground, to the point where houses were vibrating and pets were being awakened,” Kagler said. “We took down dates and times and forwarded it to the city.”
Finch and Twinsburg Mayor Katherine Procop added the complaints to those collected by their offices and met with clinic staff, resulting in the NOTAM being issued last month.
The NOTAM asks pilots to follow I-480 as closely as possible as they approach the clinic, but Shealey indicated the pilots must deviate frequently.
“If they would come I-480 to [state Route] 91, they wouldn’t have to fly over us,” Shealey said. “I realize they have to save people’s lives, but if there is another way around, I wish they’d take it.”
Some of the nuisances were traced to other medical facilities. Meanwhile, Cleveland Clinic staffers have “made efforts to minimize the amount of disturbance ... and since we started having meetings, complaints have tapered off,” Finch said.
Not everyone opposed
Count Albert Hendricks among residents who think the sound of an emergency medical helicopter is a good thing.
The UH and Life Flight helicopters often go directly over the home he has lived in for 26 years.
Hendricks said the “screaming siren” of an ambulance or firetruck is “more invasive and lasts longer,” while the noise from a helicopter is usually gone in 10 to 15 seconds.
“When I heard the clinic was moving [its helicopter] here from Medina, I was thinking it was a great thing for them to do,” Hendricks said.
“I’ve never thought of the noise as an inconvenience. I would look up and say, ‘I hope they make it.’ ”
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.