Deal Puts Helicopters On Standby At Hospital, Airport

Jan. 7, 2014
Helicopters will stand by at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Hazleton and Hazleton Regional Airport

Jan. 07--Helicopters will stand by at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Hazleton and Hazleton Regional Airport through a deal brokered on Monday.

James Edwards, the hospital's chief executive officer, said a helicopter will park on the helipad of the hospital during good weather. The hangar will shelter the helicopter in bad weather and also provide space for storing a spare helicopter and maintaining the helicopters.

Edwards said basing helicopters in Hazleton is one of the benefits of the merger that the former Hazleton General Hospital completed with the Lehigh Valley Health Network on Wednesday.

Previously, helicopters flew from the Allentown area or elsewhere to transfer patients with heart attacks, strokes and other dire conditions or to rush accident victims to a trauma center.

"Time can save lives. We work very diligently to shave minutes off," Edwards said after a meeting at which Hazleton City Council agreed to purchase a hangar and lease it to Lehigh Valley.

The council agreed to buy the hangar at the airport within a year through a lease-purchase agreement with Edward Maranuk of White Haven for $125,000.

Lehigh Valley will lease the hangar for $45,000 this year and pay 5 percent more in the next two years.

Over the weekend, council members considered postponing votes on the helicopter deal from their agenda until they could learn more about the details.

A private meeting with Edwards and other hospital officials on Monday morning allowed council members to get answers to their questions, Councilman Keith Bast said.

Jack Mundie, who was elected council president at the meeting, said the administration had been negotiating the deal for four months and could have shared details earlier. Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi said council knew the outline of the detail if not the price figures, which the parties recently negotiated.

On Dec. 19, 2013, the council tabled a resolution to apply for a $300,000 state grant to buy and renovate hangar space for medical helicopters, and on Monday the council members let that resolution lapse.

During Monday's meeting, some council members told how medical helicopters helped their families, and Hazleton Fire Chief Donald Leshko said the deal will enhance the health of residents.

"With the opportunity to have to medical helicopters there are tremendous benefits to our emergency services," Leshko said.

Deputy Commander Thomas Hall of the Civil Air Patrol Squadron 203 at the Hazleton airport said squad members summon medical helicopters after they locate scenes of plane crashes or other emergencies.

"The closer we have air lift capacity, the better," Hall said.

Not all residents in the audience approved of the deal.

Mark Raybo applauds having helicopters at the ready but thinks the city should sell its airport, which he called an albatross and personal playground of a few aviation enthusiasts. He would direct money spent to match grants to maintain the airport toward police and highway departments. He also asked, as did Mundie, for the administration to compile the cost of services that the Highway Department provides to the airport.

Grace Cuozzo, whom council appointed to replace John Sullivan on the Greater Hazleton Joint Sewer Authority, wondered why Lehigh Valley didn't buy the hangar outright.

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