Medical helicopter debate heating up in North Port

  • 2

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- A Bayflite emergency medical helicopter that is stationed in North Port may be on the way out, after some complaints about noise. This week though, hundreds are signing a petition to keep it, saying it makes residents safer when every minute counts.

Bayflite’s agreement with the city runs out at the end of the year. Some of the homeowners around the city center area say the helicopter wakes them up at all hours, and are even concerned about it crashing.

But now, with the threat of it leaving, many more are rallying behind the effort to keep it here, saying the city, without its own trauma center, needs the lifeline right where it is.

"We don't have time to drive to Tampa, Bradenton, or Lee Memorial. Your citizens will die," says resident Misty Turley.

Others however say it's not the best location, with homes nearby. “This helicopter should be located in an area where everybody that it services gets the same response time, not down here in the southern part of Sarasota County," says Bill Roberts.

City leaders like Mayor Jim Blucher say it's a tough call. "It's almost a catch-22 type issue…typical ‘Not My Back Yard.’"

He says they understand the concern from those who have to hear it. "I certainly understand the people who are against having it here. You and I would have to be woke up at three in the morning to understand that."

However, the closer it is means the safer residents could be. "Doctors and paramedics have told me that it's minutes not hours in life-saving situations. I am sure with Bayflite sitting here we have saved lives."

It appears the squabbling may just result in the service moving someplace else. In early April a letter from Bayfront Health indicated they wanted to renew their lease with the city. A letter two weeks later says they are considering a move.

"We've got a letter from them. The ball is in their court. They say they are going to move."

But more recent support from even some who live nearby is looking to change that.

"I live in the path of the helicopter. After a while, you don't even realize it." Former city commissioner Vanessa Carusone and many more are rallying a campaign to show the community really doesn't want Bayflite to take off. "The 15 people that think it should be moved is nothing compared to the hundreds of people that think it needs to stay.”

And in fact more than 500 people have signed an online petition urging commissioners to work out a deal to keep the helicopter there.

So what's next? The item was actually removed from the commission agenda Monday, which upset many who came out. Those with Bayfront Medical Center and Bayflite were in attendance, but left, indicating they are listening. When we reached them on the phone Wednesday, they said they are not making any comments.