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U. of Colorado Copter Site Draws Concern

DENVER-- While the new University of Colorado Hospital has valet parking, private patient rooms and national rankings, some experts question whether the placement of its helipad puts patient care at risk.

When critically injured patients are flown by medical helicopters to most hospitals, they can be wheeled on stretchers from the helipads directly into elevators or emergency rooms. However, at the hospital at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, the trip to the ER isn't over when the helicopter touches down.

Since the helipad is across the street from the hospital, flight medics have to load the patient into an ambulance and then drive to the hospital.

"We prefer a helipad that's close to the patients' ultimate destination," said Kathleen Mayer, program director for Flight for Life Colorado. "Any time you're moving a patient in and out of a vehicle, there is the risk that you can dislodge tubes or IV lines or those kinds of things."

Or that the ambulance won't be ready and waiting for the helicopter.

That has happened three times so far. In two cases, the patients were specialty cases and non-emergency.

But in the third, a flight nurse had to run into the hospital, get a stretcher, go back to the helicopter and then push a burn victim on the stretcher all the way to the emergency room, said Jacque Montgomery of the hospital's public relations.

"It was a miscommunication and human error," said Montgomery. "We're doing everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Flight for Life Colorado, which transports about 4,000 patients a year, estimates 85 percent of the hospitals in Colorado have helipads that are next to the hospital, while 15 percent of hospitals, mostly in rural areas, have helipads that are off-site.

UCH, which has about 20 medical helicopter landings a month, decided to put its helipad off-site because of design and cost factors.

"When we got to the point when we had to decide whether to put the helipad on the ground outside the ER or on the roof, it was clear it was cost prohibitive in redesigning the roof to put it up there or we could spend that money on other areas of patient care," said Bruce Evans, the hospital's medical director.

The cost to put the helipad in the parking lot was $110,000, while putting it on the hospital roof would have cost more than $1 million, according to Evans.

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