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Proposed MRI for hospital in Estevan to cost nearly $6.3 million; $2 million already in place

The St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation has committed to raise the necessary funds for an MRI unit at the hospital, once the provincial government approves the project.
The effort to bring MRI services to St. Joseph's Hospital in Estevan continues.

ESTEVAN - The St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation has committed to raising the remaining funds to bring an MRI machine to Estevan, but a few steps remain before a fundraising campaign can begin.

A meeting took place on Wednesday evening involving Emmanuel Health president and CEO Corey Miller; the hospital foundation and its executive director Lori Gervais; and hospital executive director Candace Kopec regarding fundraising for the unit. The business case for the machine was presented, and at the end of the meeting, the hospital foundation committed to raise the full cost of the project.

"We're asking them [the foundation] to pay for it, so we reviewed it in detail to ensure that they understood the project in complete, what equipment … we would be planning to purchase in this proposal, what renovations and additions to the hospital will be required, and then what additional start-up costs [would be needed], things like staffing bursaries and staffing return-for-service contracts," said Miller in an interview with the Mercury and SaskToday.

The total cost, including capital equipment, building and renovation costs, and staff training and start-up costs, would be $6,266,000, including taxes, Miller said. The foundation has committed to raising $6.5 million, which would provide for a contingency.

"Anything that isn't required … would stay within the St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation as an MRI endowment for future upgrades and future equipment and future costs like staff recruitment, staff training," said Miller. "Sometimes you have to buy accessories, which we are buying with this."

The project has a $2 million head start already. Elaine Walkom committed the amount, which would cover the cost of purchasing an MRI and hiring two staff members, as a legacy project in memory of her husband Grant, who died in 2017. The Walkoms owned Hank's Maintenance, an oilfield company in southeast Saskatchewan.

The Ministry of Health initially denied her request earlier this year, creating a torrent of criticism once the rejection became public.

"Once we get approval, we'll certainly be working with Elaine in trying to work through raising more money in the community and surrounding area, because this diagnostic tool will support the whole southeast of Saskatchewan, and will definitely benefit the provincial waiting lists if all of these residents don't have to go to Regina," said Miller.

Before the business plan goes to the provincial government for consideration in the 2024-25 provincial budget, it needs approval from the St. Joseph's Hospital board and the Emmanuel Health Board. The St. Joseph's board is expected to meet on Dec. 6 and the Emmanuel gathering is slated for Dec. 14.

"It just allows us to have a good measurement of is this a community priority. We believe it is. We've heard loud and clear … that it is, but this is our cheques and balances to make sure it is a community priority," said Miller.

Fundraising wouldn't begin until the provincial government gives the project the green light in a budget.

Renovating the diagnostic imaging area would be the most expensive component of the project, Miller said, as it would cost about $3.88 million.

St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation executive director Lori Gervais was pleased with the meeting. She is confident the region will once again step forward to support health care in the region, despite the size of the ask.

"The community has always stepped up. This is new to me. I've only been the director for a year and a half and have not been part of a big project like this," said Gervais.

The foundation board has handled big projects in the past, such as fundraising to purchase a CT scanner and fund the first year of operations in 2014-15. Gervais plans on reaching out to those involved with past campaigns about what to expect. She is also glad to have representatives of several RMs on the board because they will help with reaching out to those outside of Estevan.

"It's going to be a far-reaching campaign and this is something that is going to be affecting the entire community from one corner to the next," she said.

Having $2 million already in place will also be a big part of their success.

"That gives you a kick off. That gives you something to go to people with and say we're not starting from zero. We're starting from a third of it in."

Gervais also stressed the foundation would continue to fundraise for the other needs of the hospital while the campaign is underway.  

Walkom said she is pleased that this is taking the next step.

"I am so happy with the hospital foundation. I think they have good people on it. I think they're go-getters and I think they question things, which I think is good. I like to question things, too," said Walkom. 

She predicted the people of the southeast region will be generous with the fundraising campaign because this is something the area needs so badly. She knows of people who have been waiting two years.

The $6.5 million for the MRI unit will need to be in place before the machine can begin operating, he said.

The next edition of the Mercury will have more on this story.