October 2, 2014

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Avon Lake residents complain about medical chopper noise

AVON LAKE — City officials have been assured that medical helicopter flights heading to or from the Cleveland Clinic Richard E. Jacobs Avon Family Health and Surgery Center will do their best to hold it down.

Mayor Greg Zilka said he had heard some complaints from people living in the southeast corner of the city about the noise level of medical flights bringing patients to the Chester Road facility’s 24-hour emergency department or taking them into Cleveland to MetroHealth Regional Medical Center or other hospitals.

“The complaints were mainly from residents of the Hunt Club and Bridgeside subdivisions,” Zilka said. “One person objected very strongly to them. The other complaints came from people during conversations over other things. They described it more as something bothersome.”

The issue led to a recent meeting between Zilka and Cleveland Clinic officials to discuss the flights.

“A very large number of people turned out,” Zilka said. “It was about 12, which surprised me somewhat.”

During the discussion, it was emphasized that some medical helicopter flights originated from places other than the Avon facility, including MetroHealth, an EMS operation at state Route 83 and Detroit Road, and even from hospitals in the Toledo area that were flying patients to Cleveland.

“Some people were lumping them in all together, suggesting they were all tied to the Avon clinic,” Zilka said.

The Cleveland Clinic flights originating in Avon normally follow a designated path that follows Interstate 90. The flight path was agreed upon by clinic officials and the city Planning Commission, Zilka said.

“Sometimes flights go a bit north of the railroad tracks due to wind or weather,” the mayor said, referring to the east-west Norfolk Southern railroad tracks that divide Avon and Avon Lake.

Even when flights end up just south of the tracks, they are still fairly close to homes in the aforementioned areas.

“The noise level is such that it can be detectible in a house,” Zilka said.

Zilka, who lives just north of Walker Road, said he has witnessed some flights that were a bit off the prescribed flight path. He said the deviations do not occur on a regular basis.

Some helicopters fly into the Avon facility around 10 a.m., and then return from Cleveland flights in the early afternoon after refueling at Burke Lakefront Airport.

“There was a fairly common belief that a helicopter was landing almost every day at 4:30 p.m. (in Avon)” but flight logs did not back up that contention, Zilka said.

“There’s no set flight arriving at that time of day,” he said.

The Avon Cleveland Clinic center’s proximity to residential area also means “that some people are less than five minutes from emergency medical service,” Zilka said. “It’s a trade-off.”

The upshot of the meeting was that Cleveland Clinic officials pledged to see that medical flights follow the prescribed Interstate 90 flight corridor as much as possible.

Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman Heather Phillips said officials were glad to have the opportunity to sit down with Zilka “to hear what his thoughts were.”

“We do try to adhere to preferred flight patterns as much as possible, but there are times when weather forces temporary alterations,” Phillips said.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.