Sierra Vista's new helistop enters test phase

San Luis Obispo residents living on the west side of town may hear helicopters in coming days while Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center conducts test landings on its newly licensed helistop.

The $1.8 million facility is atop the hospital’s five-story parking structure to support temporary landings to load or unload trauma patients.

Sierra Vista has taken precautions to minimize noise by determining the landing and take-off flight paths that create the least impact, hospital marketing director Shannon Downing said.

The helistop will serve to transport trauma patients and to transfer critically ill babies in and out of Sierra Vista’s newborn intensive care unit.

Babies are occasionally transferred for a higher level of care from Sierra Vista to medical centers such as Children’s Hospital Central California in Madera or Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford.

In the event of a n­atural disaster or a multiple-casualty incident on the Central Coast, the helistop will provide increased access in and out of the area. It will be large enough to accommodate a Black Hawk military helicopter.

Hospital spokesman Ron Yukelson said there is no way to estimate how many landings might occur per month.

“We anticipate it will be a minimal number of landings,” he said. “We will have a better understanding after tracking the data for a year.”

Yukelson said once a helicopter lands on the pad, staff will get the patient on or off quickly so the aircraft can take off.

“The helicopters will not be allowed to stay on the landing site with rotors turning for lengthy periods of time. They must ‘stop, drop and go,’ ” he said.

Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center and Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton are the only hospitals in the county with helistops, a CalSTAR air ambulance representative said.

In March, Sierra Vista was designated as the county’s sole Level III trauma center, equipped to provide care to the most critically injured patients.