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Emmanuel Health CEO wants to see an MRI installed at Estevan's hospital

The full proposal to bring an MRI to St. Joseph's Hospital is expected to be completed by the end of October.
Emmanuel Health CEO Corey Miller, middle, with, Candace Kopec, left, Lori Gervais, second from left, Elaine Walkom and Dean Martens gather for a group photo after the meeting.

ESTEVAN - The president and CEO of Emmanuel Health is impressed with the efforts to bring an MRI scanner to St. Joseph's Hospital in Estevan.

Corey Miller met with Elaine Walkom, who offered to donate $2 million to bring an MRI scanner to the hospital, and Dean Martens, who is one of supporters for an MRI. Also involved with the meeting were hospital executive director Candace Kopec and hospital foundation executive director Lori Gervais.

Miller has been involved with the installation of several MRI machines around the province from his time working in medical imaging and nuclear medicine for the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

He thought the meeting went well. They talked through the project requirements, and how St. Joseph's Hospital would be working with the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority to put together a proposal for the full MRI project for St. Joseph's. It will be presented to the ministry and the provincial government for the 2024-25 provincial budget. 

"This proposal will be ready and be put through for that process for consideration," said Miller. "It will be a full proposal, so not just a donation of $2 million, but what is the total cost of capital equipment, renovations and installation costs and start-up costs, and then what are the ongoing operating dollars to run that piece of equipment so that the government knows what they are committing to. What are the annual costs of running that program as well?"

The MRI would be located in the same area as the CT scanner and the laboratory at the hospital. Miller said it would be a small addition to the area housing the medical imaging equipment. There are three smaller rooms adjacent to the wall of the building, and those three spaces would be removed. An addition would be needed for a radiofrequency cage for the MRI. 

"We need to have an assessment of the building done to make sure that where we think we can put it, we can put it in fact," said Miller. "We'll have to have some of the equipment vendors who sell MRIs and their technical teams to come out and do that evaluation for us and with us."

Miller described the MRI as a complex piece of equipment. It needs to go in a technical and specific room that's shielded from electromagnetic fields.

"It's lined with … some sort of gel between layers of copper, and that protects the outside area beside the magnet from this high-field magnet. It also protects the magnet from objects from outside of the room."

Four safety zones have to be around it.

Miller did not divulge the projected cost for bringing and setting up an MRI at St. Joseph's, but he said that information would be coming. And while it would exceed the $2 million offered by Walkom, her contribution is a great head start for the equipment, he said.

"It's not very often you have a $2 million offer, and we want to make sure we steward that and we're responsible to that gift and to the community."

He hopes the proposal can be submitted before the end of the month.

"We want to make sure we have a plan that's realistic in front of the decision makers so they are fully informed of what the commitment they're making will be." 

Miller is also not sure of how long it would take for the unit to be operational if it were to be included in next year's budget.

Gervais and Kopec were at the meeting because he believes they will be very important people in securing the MRI, he said. 

Walkom's desire to see an MRI unit installed at the hospital became public in mid-September. She offered $2 million for the purchase of the MRI and the training of two staff members as a legacy project in honour of her late husband Grant. The Walkoms own Hank's Maintenance, a successful oilfield business in Estevan. 

She made the offer in March, and the Ministry of Health sent a letter denying the request two months later. Their decision has been widely panned throughout the province.

Prior to meeting with Walkom and Martens, he met with representatives from the RM of Estevan to discuss the MRI project and other issues related to health care.