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Palo Verde Valley Blythe/Quartzsite Times | Blythe, California and Quartzsite, Arizona

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2/22/2013 12:01:00 PM
Desert Air official fought to halt emergency helicopters from landing at hospital

Marty Bachman

BLYTHE - Desert Air Ambulance Service co-owner Jeff Gatchell sent numerous emails and met with Caltrans officials, urging them to stop emergency helicopters from landing at Palo Verde Hospital.

Hospital officials received a cease and desist letter from Caltrans on Wednesday stating the helipad does not comply with state regulations and they can no longer land helicopters there. Gatchell is the domestic and business partner of Palo Verde Healthcare District Board President Trina Sartin and the fixed base operator overseeing the Blythe Airport.

In a Jan. 30 email to Michael Smith, Aviation Safety Officer for Caltrans' Office of Airports, Gatchell offers a count of the number of helicopters landing at the hospital.

"In November, there were 14 landings, in December, 17, and 14 so far this month," Gatchell wrote.

"Being a pilot myself and having seen many 'helipads', I know that this area doesn't come close to meeting any regulatory standards for helipads. I won't go into too much detail here as I believe that you have a fairly good picture in your mind as to the layout of the area. Using this area for all hospital to hospital transports is a recipe for disaster."

Gatchell wrote that he knew EMS pilots that refuse to operate in the area, despite pressure from higher ups within their organizations and that options on approaches or landings were non-existent.

"Obviously, having a perfectly good airport within a few minutes of this facility is a much more prudent safety choice," Gatchell wrote.

He said he saw aircraft not permitted to do inter-facility transports in the county land at the hospital and that the only changes made to make the landings and takeoffs safer was the hospital having three staff members in green vest securing the area.

"I have a strong sense that there has been no training done with them," Gatchell wrote. "The perimeter still remains un-fenced, the surface is irregular and cracked, there are no lights defining the landing area, and the power lines on two sides are not marked.

"I hope this information will help you and your team move forward."

Gatchell concluded that he was acting as "a spokesman for many of our concerned citizens, as well as in the general interest of aviation and public safety."

Gatchell updated Smith on Jan. 31 stating he had a "short clip" of a Careflight departing a day earlier.

"Note the wires in that shot," he wrote.

In a second email sent that day, Gatchell wrote that at least three helicopter landings took place the day prior.

"I failed to mention the one before sunrise. Allen told me about it because it woke him up," he wrote.

Gatchell contacted Smith again on Feb. 4, stating that since the prior Wednesday, at least four helicopters had landed at the hospital, two from Careflight and two from Native Air.

"Actual count could well be higher since we are not sitting over there watching them into the wee hours of the morning," he wrote.

Again in an email dated Feb. 4, Gatchell wrote that he was driving in town that evening and happened to see the strobe flashing on top of the roof of the hospital, so he went over to watch a Careflight that landed at 8:20 p.m.

"There was no one outside securing the landing site," he wrote. "As I mentioned previously, this affirms my statement that the staff wearing the green vests only attempts to secure the area during the day (no police or fire presence either). When they finally cranked back up at around 2035, one of the crew got out while the machine was running and ran over to a gurney next to the hospital and grabbed an envelope that had been left on it (pt. chart maybe?). You'd have to see the whole thing to believe it. With the number of landings occurring here now (at least one per day), the odds of a catastrophic event occurring has increased exponentially. I hope I am not nearby when it happens."

On Feb. 13. Gatchell again contacted Smith stating that Careflight helicopters continued to land at the hospital.

"...in fact they came in on two separate occasions on Monday the 11th - once at 1115, and again at 2300. I was at the post office when the first one arrived (sitting in my truck). They approached from the south due to a north wind and in so doing flew over the vacant lot across the street from the hospital and next to the post office. It looked like a scene from "The Mummy" with the brown cloud that they created. The people that were outside the post office were turning their backs to the dust and/or debris in an effort to keep it out of their faces. I will expect there to be more complaints from some of the locals. Take care, Jeff"

Gatchell and Sartin's Desert Air Ambulance Service provides airplane transport service to out-of-town hospitals and is in competition with the helicopter services that previously landed at Palo Verde Hospital. Blythe Airport, which Gatchell runs, also stands to collect landing fees from helicopters that now must divert to the airport.

Download copies of emails sent to Caltrans from Desert Air's Jeff Gatchell

Related Stories:
• On-call pay cuts still leave doctors with above average pay
• Hospital continues to bleed money
• FPPC rules Hudson has conflict and can't vote on issues concerning hospital chief of staff, Sahlolbei
• TIMES EDITORIAL: Hospital's new interim-CEO might be too ethical to last
• City Council hopes to work with hospital on helicopter issue
• TIMES EDITORIAL: No end in sight to Palo Verde Hospital drama
• Hospital board dismisses interim-CEO and Chief Nursing Officer
• TIMES EDITORIAL: Conflicts at Palo Verde Hospital will soon cost someone their life
• Emergency transport helicopters to be banned from landing at hospital
• TIMES EDITORIAL: District Attorney Paul Zellberbach owes Blythe more than an apology
• Former DA warns board members of potential conflicts

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• Medical Staff drops lawsuit against hospital board
• Medical staff seeks to restrain Healthcare District Board from contracting out surgical services

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Article comment by: wow Trina

How happy you must be...The old doctors are back and it's up up and way with fixed wings...you knew Sahlolbei would set you up right..(deleted)...

Site Administrator's note: A portion of this comment has been removed because it violated our Terms of use Agreement.

Posted: Monday, March 4, 2013
Article comment by: @@ @Hawkeye

Don't be too sure, there, dude! I believe this town is actually beginning to wake up to the kind of people who are running the hospital. By the way.... just who IS running the hospital these days, since they've fired everyone! Oh, no. Don't tell me the Dr. and the twins and gofer are doing it!! That is really scarey! But, they are running scared, I think, judging by there recent actions. PVVT is getting a bit too close, and shining the light on your little game? Poor, poor twins and gofer! LOL - Oh, by the way, I will want to sign that petition, and I know of at least a dozen more who will! Get'er done!

Posted: Monday, March 4, 2013
Article comment by: Stop your (deleted)

@@ same old stuff

"I think the community is much better of with a little micromanaging by the board rather than what we have had the last two years. Go to the meetings and see the new board actually discussing things in open session instead of most things being done in closed session like the last board did. Maybe then you will see the light!"

If You keep this (deleted) up you will be exposed more than ever!
Site Administrator's note: A portion of this comment has been removed because it violated our Terms of use Agreement.

Posted: Sunday, March 3, 2013
Article comment by: @@hawkeye pierce

hawkey pierce, why don't u run on a recall ballot
r r u just a whiner who don't want to loose again?
ur recall will fail.

Posted: Sunday, March 3, 2013
Article comment by: To the twin Voters

You got what you ask for so lay in the bed you made. LOL

Posted: Sunday, March 3, 2013
Article comment by: @ hawkeye pierce

(deleted) Is there any truth to that? I would say that you are going to need around 2500 resident voters to sign your recall petition since Trina got something like around 70 percent of the votes in the election.

Site Administrator's note: A portion of this comment has been removed because it violated our Terms of use Agreement.

Posted: Saturday, March 2, 2013
Article comment by: @ Hawkeye Pierce

That is great. You also know that you should have someone willing to run against them in the recall election!
It is useless to have a recall election if no one is will to run and replace them.
Best to pick a very good strong candidate and recall the weakest one.

Posted: Saturday, March 2, 2013
Article comment by: Hawkeye Pierce

I got our recall packet from the Registar of Voters office. We have to wait until they have been in office for 6 months, and get 2/3's of the registered voters who voted in the hospital board election to sign our petitions. They are going to let me know how many signatures that will amout to. I will update everyone when I have the actual figures. This next couple of months we need to band together to rid our town of this corruption.

Posted: Saturday, March 2, 2013
Article comment by: Mark Mywords

This is high quality investigative journalism. I think Desert Air underestimated PVVT, and thought they could scuttle their competition on the sly and nobody would find out who dropped the dime on the helipad. Nope. PVVT turned over that rock, and we the people of Blythe should be thankful our paper is looking into these issues, exposing this sort of underhanded scheming.

Posted: Saturday, March 2, 2013
Article comment by: Phantom Nose

Same old stuff. Blame the messenger (PVVT). Create an emergency (not enough income, heliport not safe). Present yourself as the solution. That takes the focus away from the real problem. We all know who the problem is.

Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Article comment by: @ very interested

The last financials if I remember correctly stated that cash on hand was down to 3.2 million dollars. I find the use of "the twins" and "gofer" offensive since they do have names. You do not have to like them but people can at least use their names

Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Article comment by: To @ very interesting

Sorry I meant Hospital Website. I have always in the past been able to get a copy of every document from the Website under agenda Packet. I noticed that since the Twins took over that they no longer provide documents there except the ones that are important to them like the bi-law changes. If you have a copy of the financials what was the cash on hand?

Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Article comment by: @ same old stuff

I think that Sandy rectified that mistake when she voted to fire the man. Every one complained that Sandy micromanaged the hospital when she was on the board before. Let's look at the facts: hospital was broke then and when the PVVT went after her then it was back to being a viable hospital with millions in the bank, as much as 10.2 million dollars. The community then votes her out, new board gives the CEO a new contract that is great for him. Over 400k a year with an evergreen clause, a one year pay guarantee if he is fired, and he was basically handed whatever he wanted. Old contract was significantly less but had a performance bonus package where he had an incentive to work. After 2 years of no Sandy the hospital administration announces that the hospital will be broke by June if significant changes are made. I think the community is much better of with a little micromanaging by the board rather than what we have had the last two years. Go to the meetings and see the new board actually discussing things in open session instead of most things being done in closed session like the last board did. Maybe then you will see the light!

Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Article comment by: @ very interesting

I do not know which financials you are speaking of but I have been at the meetings where the CFO presented in writing the financials from Oct., Nov., and Dec.. The financials for January are suppose to be provided at the next meeting. If you are having problems getting any of those then you should contact a board member or come to the next meeting and complain about it. This is something the administration is responsible to provide and this has been a problem there for over 6 months (while old board was there). From talking with what you all like to disrespectfully call "the twins" they themselves have had trouble getting documents they have asked for.

Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Article comment by: Same old Stuff

It's a broken record, and we're stuck in a rut. Somebody pulls a chain and Hudson, et.al. start spewing same old blame routine. SHE was part of the hiring of Klune. Why do we keep forgetting? Blame the past, blame the paper. Isn't that the same thing wherever evil lurks? They work better in the dark. As long as you don't shine the light of truth on them, they continue their disgusting work of manipulating, of skullduggary, etc. BUT, somewhat like vampires, I just thought, they don't like light and they will do everything they can to shut the light off, because it exposes them for what they are. The newspaper IS doing their job, for crying out loud! If they just turned their eyes away, THEN they would be remiss in their duties. I have a suspician that there actually may be somde decency in these people, or they would not be so upset at the light. Let's all pray for their lost souls, folks. And they are lost souls. They represent the worst traits in mankind, and we need to face up to truth, whether we want to hear/see it or not. Keep the shining light of freedom going, PVVT!

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