ANC 2A & George Washington University Hospital agree to helipad

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The District of Columbia is one step closer to having a second hospital equipped with a trauma center and helipad after a Ward 2 Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) agreed to support the construction of one at George Washington University Hospital on Wednesday.

The helipad could be operational within 12 months, according to hospital leadership.

ANC 2A commissioners voted 3-to-2 in favor of a voluntary neighborhood agreement with the hospital. Chair Patrick Kennedy and commissioners Eve Zhurbinskiy and Marco Guzman voted in favor of the agreement, while commissioners Phillip Schrefer and Florence Harmon were opposed.

Kennedy said commissioner William Smith had recused himself from the vote, while commissioners Detrick Campbell and Rebecca Coder were not present at the meeting.

Since 1987, construction of new helipads in D.C. has been banned, leaving Medstar Washington Hospital Center as the only District hospital with a trauma center and helipad.

Under the agreement between the hospital and ANC 2A, the ANC will send a letter to the D.C. Council indicating their support of changing the law to allow one to be built at GW, along with draft legislation.

Kennedy said the discussion between the ANC and the hospital had been on-going for the past 11 months as residents around the hospital had concerns that needed to be addressed.

“Potential effects from noise and vibration and just making sure that this facility’s effects on quality of life would not be so deleterious that they would outweigh the benefits to public safety and emergency care in the district,” added Kennedy.

Hospital leadership said the world has become a more dangerous place since the law was first enacted.

“Things have changed quite a bit since the 80s,” said Dr. Babak Sarani, Director of the hospital’s Center for Trauma and Critical Care. “In the 80s, we didn’t talk about active shooter events, we didn’t talk about mass casualty events. Now, it’s something we talk about every single day and our preparedness has to change consistent with the times.”

Sarani added the closest helipad for GW is next to Nationals Park and an ambulance ride from there could take up to 45 minutes in heavy traffic.

“I am very concerned that there would be unnecessary morbidity and possibly death from lack of timely transfer of those patients,” said Sarani.

Both parties agreed to a number of restrictions for the helipad, such as: capping the annual number of flights at 175, no unnecessary idling by helicopters, and no fueling station at the helipad.

The hospital will also provide data to the ANC on a semi-annual basis on the helipad’s usage.

The agreement also lists several resources for residents and the ANC to address issues or concerns with the helipad, including a 1-800 number, enforcement by the D.C. Department of Health, third party mediation, and legal action in D.C. Superior Court (in the case of ANC 2A, the Foggy Bottom Association would represent their interests as ANCs can’t sue).

But some attendees at Wednesday night’s meeting expressed doubt as to how effective any of these forms of mediation would be.

The draft legislation to change the law will now be forwarded to D.C. Council.

A representative for Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans was present at the meeting and told the room that Evans was waiting for the ANC and hospital to come to an agreement on the issue and his office would begin to move forward.

Prior to the vote, Ward 7 Councilmember and Health Committee Chair Vincent Gray said he was interested to see the final agreement between the two parties

“If it has the potential to save lives, then we should do things that facilitate that,” added Gray.

After the vote, Dr. Sarani said that, even accounting for the D.C. Council legislative process, he thinks a helipad could be up and running within 12 months.