Ron Biscaro at Cottage Hospital neighborhood meeting about helicopter noise
Paul Wellman

The Tuesday night meeting between Cottage Hospital administrators and the hospital’s neighbors morphed into an airing of grievances — often impassioned — focused on Cottage’s new helicopter service, its effect on neighbors, and the nearby residents’ view that the hospital is unwilling to take their concerns seriously.

The air ambulance service, said Ron Biscaro, vice president of Cottage’s Housing and Real Estate Development, is intended for critically ill children, trauma patients, and stroke victims, and can be used by the county’s Search and Rescue team during medical emergencies. The hospital originally projected about two transports a week and, despite an initial surge in flights when the landing pad opened in February, is now seeing about that many trips per week.

“We think that burden is a justified burden,” Biscaro said. “We’re here to make people well. I’m happy to debate that.”

Neighbor Dana Schorr said the hospital isn’t being understanding. “They’re baiting us with the baby issue and with the trauma issue,” he said, adding his belief that Cottage’s main concern is revenue. “The hospital seems to have no interest in our safety, in our welfare, in our health.”

The majority of complaints stemmed from neighbors’ distrust of the administration and frustration with its apparent inability to regulate the number of transports or control the type of situations during which the service is used. Some residents complained about the nighttime flights, some grumbled that the service provided no benefit to them, and one woman expressed frustration that even uninsured patients can be transported via helicopter. Another woman said she felt that not all of the transports were “life-saving.” As a whole, the neighbors called for increased transparency and better communication.

“A little bit of information is a dangerous thing,” said area resident Sally Kingston, the director of College Bound Programs for Carpinteria Unified School District, who asked the administration to provide the neighbors with more data.

Attendee Celeste Barber chided people for complaining. “I’m hearing ‘noise,’ ‘noise,’ ‘noise.’ It’s to save lives,” she said to a chorus of groans, head shakes, and questions about her home address.

Todd Gutshall tried to appreciate both sides of the issue. “It’s great what you’ve done,” he said to Biscaro about the helicopter service. “But, knowing the greatness of it…it sounds like a case of, ‘If you build it, they will come.’”

Things got really heated when Biscaro alleged that a meeting — a gathering he called “a goodwill gesture” on behalf of the hospital — between administrators and the neighbor-organized Cottage Helicopter Task Force involved members of the Task Force threatening legal action against the hospital should their requests go unmet. Biscaro’s allegation was met with people screaming “Not true!” and “You’re lying!” and people storming out. The hospital, Biscaro said, will not meet with the Task Force again.

“There’s nothing we can do to make the helipad different,” conceded Biscaro, noting that the hospital will look into possibly getting a quieter type of helicopter. “We welcome suggestions that are reasonable.”

City Councilmember Cathy Murillo echoed Biscaro’s call for compromise. “We seem to be at a worse spot now instead of a better one,” she said. “Let’s not give up on finding common ground. The hospital’s here to stay, and we’re here to stay.”

The next public meeting will be in August.


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