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Bedminster, Branchburg, Bridgewater Concerned Citizens Coalition, Inc. v. UMDNJ

A-6585-05T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2007) (Unpublished)

ZONING; HELICOPTERS; EMERGENCY SERVICES — An emergency medical service helicopter response unit did not violate the statute that requires a unit’s helicopters be “hospital based” when its operations were a private airport yet its unit was headquartered at a university hospital.

A non-profit citizens group filed a complaint alleging that a hospital illegally operated an emergency medical service helicopter response unit because its use of an airport for its helicopter was not “hospital based” as required under statute. With the exception of a flight nurse and flight paramedic, all members associated with this unit were located at the hospital. The state police had responsibility for the helicopter’s operations. The helicopter maintained constant radio contact with the hospital’s trauma physicians and other health care personnel at the hospital. The lower court ruled that the governing statute did not require that the helicopter, itself, be physically located on the grounds of a hospital and granted summary judgment in favor of the hospital. The group appealed, arguing that the statute’s use of the words “hospital based” meant that the helicopter had to be based at a hospital for operational purposes.

The Appellate Division disagreed, and concluded that the statute did not clearly and unambiguously mean that the unit’s helicopter had to be physically located at, and dispatched from, the premises of a hospital. The Court interpreted the statute to mean that the response unit had to be headquartered at a hospital in order for it to be “hospital based,” and noted that the unit was staffed and operated under the direction of the hospital. It concluded that the Legislature did not intend to hamstring the operations of the program by mandating that a unit’s helicopter be physically located on the premises of a hospital and dispatched from that location. The Court felt that a mandate in which the helicopter had to be based at a hospital rather than at a geographically strategic airport could impair the unit’s ability to respond expeditiously to medical emergencies. Therefore, the Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

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