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200 attend hearing on medical helicopter relocation and expansion Wednesday


RHINELANDER, WI (WXPR) -  No decision was made Wednesday night on a request to expand Ministry Medical Group’s Spirit Air helicopter services in Woodruff.

An Oneida County committee held a public hearing, and about 200 people attended. Ministry’s proposal includes moving the Spirit Air base to a larger facility with a hanger and 12 thousand gallon fuel tank near the Howard Young Medical Center’s emergency room. Hospital officials said the new site would give precious minutes to the deathly ill. Nearby residents had concerns about noise, safety and property values. President of Ministry Medical Group, Dr. Stu Watson said they wanted to move the helicopter facility from Rhinelander to Woodruff to be more centrally located. “From a geographic standpoint, it allows us to serve the largest number of our patients being in Woodruff. It’s a better location.” But Woodruff residents said Ministry hadn't exhausted all options. Town chair Mike Timmons felt landing at the Lakeland Airport a couple miles away was an option. “Nobody has ever talked (from the hospital) talked to the Lakeland Airport to see if there could be some arrangements through the back road instead of going down Highway 51.” Nearby resident Todd Albano said he supports the hospital and has no problem with the smaller pad, but opposed the larger and more active facility. “When they wanted to put the hanger there and put the maintenence there, and started doing the other things, and build a heliport there, that’s when we became concerned.” Foundation Chairman Trig Solberg favored the expansion. “Its’ very important to have the best emergency services we can have, and I think we’re fortunate Howard Young happens to be (the most) centrally located in the five hospitals up here that Ministry has.”

There is already a smaller landing pad is on the opposite side of the hospital. The Planning and Development Committee set no date for the on-site visit.

The Woodruff town board earlier rejected the upgrade and sent it to Oneida county.