Movement against Children’s Hospital new helipad

Domenic Mesa, News Editor

Audubon Riverside residents have been at odds with Children’s Hospital New Orleans LCMC Health following the construction and operation of a new helipad. The helipad began operating in May of 2020. 

The helipad was moved from a previous location, originally providing a buffer zone between the landing site and residents of the Audubon Riverside neighborhood. In a July 16 letter to John R. Nickens, president and CEO of Children’s Hospital New Orleans and LCMC Health Maternal and Child Health Services, more than 100 residents agreed on the devastating consequences associated with the relocation.

“The change has been astounding. Helicopters landing at the original heliport were never intrusive. Now it feels as if our homes are under attack. If that sounds hyperbolic, we invite you to stand on our porches, or even inside our homes, during a helicopter landing and take-off.”

Melisa Rey, a spokesperson for the residents of the Audubon Riverside neighborhood, emphasized the disruptive nature of helicopters taking off and landing at various times throughout the day.

“It is impossible to sleep through a take-off or landing unless I’m taking sleep medication, which I am,” Rey said. “The dramatic loss of sleep due to the helicopter flying at all hours of the day and night have had major consequences of sleep deprivation. I’ve suffered with sleep deprivation, anxiety, nervousness, irritability. The list goes on. I found myself unable to function in a healthy way … To be honest with you, the nighttime is the worst … It’s the sleep deprivation that is most disruptive to my life. It’s severe, the consequences of that are severe.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these problems. Parents and their children are at home, dialing in remotely to school and work. Consistent and loud disturbances from neighboring helicopters pose a serious threat to the level of engagement a person may have.

“My children were still doing virtual school up until three weeks ago,” Rey said. “They did not have the ability to do that schooling outside without the risk of a helicopter coming and disrupting, not just them, but the entire class.” 

A major concern of residents is the lack of communication, transparency and inclusivity on behalf of Children’s Hospital. According to the document sent to Nickens, residents were unaware of changes to the plan for the helipad until the first helicopter landed. From the outset of construction, residents were not included in the decision-making process. Early discussions of mitigation did not address the issue that causes most frustration, the proximity of the helipad to Audubon Riverside residences. 

“There is a solution,” Rey said. “Unfortunately, the hospital has taken this position of just not wanting to have a discussion. Like, they will not meet with us. They will not talk to our attorney. They will not try to come up with any solutions.” 

Many residents have become targets of slandering and trolling. The scope of the issue has shifted away from the mental and physical effects of the helipad on residents to categorical personal attacks. 

“The demonizing on Facebook. People saying ‘Oh you’re so awful. If it was my house, they could land on my roof,’” Rey said.

On multiple occasions, residents have emphasized that they do not disagree with the mission of Children’s Hospital. Their main concern reflects the lack of consideration that Children’s Hospital has when concerning the quality of life of its neighbors. 

“[Audubon Riverside Neighborhood Association] and its residents are NOT opposed to the helicopter,” an official statement from the ARNA said. “All LCMC/CH is asked to do is what it should have done in the first place: work with the neighborhood to find a mutually acceptable heliport location that allows the hospital to operate as it pleases but stops the serious and continuing harm to its surrounding neighbors.”

More importantly, residents have moved towards litigation following information revealing the helipad was constructed without proper permits.

“[Children’s Hospital] made this move without seeking any neighbor or community input, and more alarmingly, without any permits from the City, [Federal Aviation Association], or the [Department of Transportation and Development],” ARNA said. “Why LCMC/CH would spend millions of dollars to relocate the heliport without permits is beyond us. Had they followed proper permitting protocol, however, the legal process would have forced collaboration with the neighborhood and a mutually acceptable location could have been chosen on the front end. Instead of recognizing their mistake and finding a more suitable location on their sprawling 14-acre campus, they are refusing to use the previous location and have told the neighborhood they will not find an alternative new location. To add insult to injury, they have acted in a deny, deflect and discredit approach to this issue, even publicly labeling the neighbors as a ‘small band of angry residents.’”

According to a petition filed by a lawyer for residents, they are challenging the decision made by the Board of Zoning Adjustment of the City of New Orleans. The challenge is based on claims that a decision was reached by incorrect findings. The decision held that the approval standards for appeal were not met by petitioners.

Among many other allegations, the petitioners argue there is a conflict of interest concerning legal representation.

“The very fact that the attorney for the Department of Safety and Permits who participated in formulating the Zoning Verification from which Petitioners have appealed also continues to represent the BZA in the subject proceedings raises a conflict of interest inimical to due process of the law,” residents said in a petition on Dec. 9. “Clearly, the City Attorney Melissa Quigley was prejudiced and biased to support the decision of the Department of Safety and Permits against Petitioners at the November 9, 2020 hearing.”

This litigation is ongoing and no decision has been made yet. 

The Hullabaloo reached out to Children’s Hospital for a statement, but representatives were unable to comment.

Requests for signs or additional information can be made on an official website for this issue.