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St. Luke’s to part ways with PennSTAR; Miners Campus to relocate heliport

St. Luke’s Miners Campus is planning to relocate its heliport next year to make room for an expanded emergency department.

Perhaps more significant, the medical helicopter company serving the hospital will no longer be PennSTAR, ending a 18-year relationship.

A St. Luke’s official told Coaldale Borough Council Tuesday night that the health system will be parting ways with PennSTAR in the near future.

Dave Stofanak, spoke at council’s monthly meeting to see if they would support a plan to move the helipad as part of the hospital’s Emergency Department expansion.

He said exterior construction will begin early next year.

In order for the new heliport to meet FAA requirements, St. Luke’s needs to cut down trees across the street from the hospital. It’s believed that the borough has a lease for that land.

Council said they were open to the idea.

During the discussion, council members shared some complaints about low-flying medical helicopters. Stofanak then said that St. Luke’s will be leaving PennSTAR next year.

He said that an incident last December involving a helicopter at Miners Campus contributed to the decision.

On Dec. 29, a PennSTAR helicopter on approach to the hospital made a hard landing on the heliport at Miners. Stofanak said the pilot in the crash did not use one of two approved landing approaches to the helipad, which are to the North and West.

According to the FAA, the pilot did contact power lines, but his steep approach to avoid them caused a loss of lift, which caused the hard landing.

“That’s unacceptable, and you see why. You have a helicopter come in over the power lines, and there’s an anomaly with the air and it nearly causes the helicopter to crash,” Stofanak said.

The FAA called pilot error a primary factor in the crash. Metro Aviation, the company that owns PennSTAR’s helicopters, said they took appropriate disciplinary action against the pilot involved.

“Unfortunately a near miss with a helicopter can mean death,” Stofanak said.

St. Luke’s has already announced their new partner, Geisinger. Last month they announced an agreement to have Geisinger Life Flight provide medical helicopter services effective July 1, 2018.

Council also praised St. Luke’s for an ongoing landscaping/sign project taking place at their entrance on Manila Grove Road.

They asked Stofanak if, as part of the project, St. Luke’s would consider taking down some trees at the base of Manila Grove and Route 209 that would improve the sight distance for vehicles attempting to turn onto route 209.

“Some of those trees need to go, because you take your life in your hands when you come out of there,” Councilwoman Anne Girard said.

St. Luke's is relocating the helicopter pad to make room for emergency room expansion. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO