There appears as well to be skepticism that a helipad would necessarily take form, as the hospital admits that it also needs parking spaces on that site, and has offered little evidence that the Federal Aviation Administration would even approve of helicopters coming to rest near two busy intersections in the heart of downtown Danville.
Could another street closing be far behind?
Even if the FAA were to give the OK, we would claim no surprise should the closing of the block of Walnut between Third and Fourth become a condition of that approval. The city already has closed one through street — Martin Luther King Boulevard between Third and Fourth — to accommodate hospital expansion.
The hospital agrees that a rooftop helipad would be preferable, and spokesman Harry Nickens told the newspaper last week that one atop an extended emergency room entrance — likely several years from reality — is a possibility. But the valuable "golden minutes" needed to get a patient from the emergency room to a helicopter are needed now, the hospital says. As Nickens pointed out, however, even if a rooftop helipad comes to be, parking space outside the emergency room would disappear, and the lot where the old newspaper building now stands would be needed to replace it.
We think the debate should be more clear. If parking spaces are ultimately the issue, perhaps there are other options. At least there would be more time to consider them.
There is no good argument against something that could save even one life. With that in mind, we suspect a helipad is not the only new service the hospital might strive to provide that could be described as a life-saver, else there would be no need to transport patients to other hospitals. But, as hard as they are, decisions to expand medical services — as in expansions in other businesses — almost always are ultimately made from a financial perspective: Is there enough demand to justify the cost?
According to the hospital, the need for emergency services in general, and transfers by helicopter in particular, have increased dramatically here. Assuming that is the case, the community should be doing everything in its power to help the hospital improve its ability to quickly deploy a helicopter, with a patient on board, at whatever site that might be achieved.
Is the FAA likely to approve of this plan? We'll see. That's a question that should have been asked and answered before now, and certainly before a demolition permit for the building in question was acquired.
But clearly, it is harder to make an argument for tearing down a building to produce parking spaces than it is to provide for a cherished emergency service. We hope the real priority — with a realistic option — is the one being debated.