Premier Health is moving forward with plans to expand in southern Warren County despite critics suspicious of its motives.
Earlier this month, Mason City Council unanimously rejected Premier’s plan to build the city’s first emergency helipad on four acres on Mason-Montgomery Road, where the Dayton-based hospital company is developing a free-standing emergency medical facility.
“We believe this is an attempt by an out-of- town hospital to grab a piece of the Greater Cincinnati health care pie,” Michael Meyers, president of a neighboring homeowners association, said during the Jan. 12 meeting.
Meyers was one of a series of speakers against Premier Health’s plan to build a helipad on the site of the emergency medical facility Premier still plans to open this spring in Mason. The only Mason resident speaking in favor of the helipad plan said he worked for Premier.
Nonetheless, Premier plans to open the new ER – where doctors’ offices and physical therapy facilities are already operating - in coming months.
“We are exploring all possible options as we complete the opening of emergency services at the Mason site this spring,” Diane Ewing, vice president and chief communications officer for Premier, said in an email.
It would have been the Dayton-based hospital company’s third helipad at a free-standing ER. One is already available at Premier’s Jamestown facility in Greene County. Another is part of the Good Samaritan North Health Center opening this year in Englewood in northern Montgomery County.
“Our goal is to bring a higher level of service to the community and enhance our relationship with the community. The helipad will provide the highest level of care to the community,” Carol Turner, CEO of Atrium Medical Center, Premier’s hospital in Warren County, said during the Mason council meeting.
But Jonathan Sams, a lawyer representing the Manor House event center next door, said patients needing emergency transport by helicopter from the area could be taken quickly to an existing helipad at West Chester Hospital, west of Mason and just east of Interstate 75 in Butler County.
During his presentation, Sams also said the Premier helicopter could upset tents, send mulch and other objects flying, even startle horses and elephants at the Manor House for events. .
“We can’t have elephants or horses panicking,” Sams said. “The reputation of the Mason Manor House will be tarnished.”
Other critics predicted a helicopter would distract drivers on the busy Mason-Montgomery Road and accused Premier of misrepresenting its primary interest as patient care, rather than business development.
Premier has operated a range of medical facilities for years in Springboro and Lebanon in northern Warren County. It staffs a unit of CareFlight, the area’s emergency helicopter, at the Warren County Airport, outside Lebanon and north of Mason.
It acquired Middletown Hospital and moved it east of Interstate 75 in a part of Middletown in Warren County. Renamed Atrium Medical Center, it also features a helipad.
The Mason ER is Premier’s farthest south.
In August, Sherri Carbo, a representative from Gov. John Kasich’s office, presented a certificate of recognition as Premier broke ground on what was to be a $11.5 million renovation of a former Mercy Health building for a 12-bed, freestanding ER with a helipad expected to employ about 40 workers.
A helipad was already approved for the site in 1997, but Premier was required to go through a review process due to the time elapsed.
The Federal Aviation Administration approved use of air space for the helipad, which Premier estimated would be used no more than a dozen times a year to ship critical patients to hospitals in Dayton, Cincinnati, even Columbus or Cleveland.
“We go to UC quite a bit,” said Candy Skidmore, the Premier vice president over CareFlight, referring to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, which also operates West Chester Hospital.
In December, the Mason Planning Commission recommended conditional approval.
But on Jan. 12, Mason Mayor David Nichols emphasized the city’s business friendliness and urged Premier to come back with a different plan before joining in the council’s unanimous rejection of the helipad.
“This is the wrong fit for this area,” Nichols said.
Although barred from building a helipad, Premier still has authority to land a helicopter in the vicinity of the Mason site – or virtually anywhere else in Warren County – if beckoned by an emergency physician.
City officials said a meeting is scheduled this week with Premier, but neither side offered any details of what would be discussed.
“There are no plans to move the planned services to another site,” Ewing said, while declining to elaborate.