Skip to content

Column: Estevan should now top the list for potential MRI locations

An opinion piece on the government's decision to deny a donation for an MRI unit in Estevan and why the machine should be located in the Energy City.
Southeast Saskatchewan needs an MRI unit, and it should be located in Estevan.

There's a lot of talk in the community right now about St. Joseph's Hospital in Estevan getting an MRI machine, and it's not wishful thinking.

The Ministry of Health's decision to deny Elaine Walkom's generous $2 million donation for an MRI scanner certainly generated a lot of talk in the community. And it's hard to find many people who think the government did the right thing in saying "Thanks, but no thanks" to Ms. Walkom. We know the need and the value of an MRI here, yet the provincial government said no.

There's obviously a protocol that has to be followed when dealing with governments. There are all sorts of hoops you have to jump through and hurdles you need to clear. At times, the wheels of democracy are square.

St. Joseph's Hospital will have to submit a detailed business case on how it would accommodate the MRI, how it would secure the requisite staff, etc. And I'm sure they will need to do other work.

But once the government gets the business case, they should realize why Estevan is the perfect choice to have an MRI installed.

We have the demand for this project. We have the money in place. This should vault us to the top of the provincial government's queue. An MRI will be part of the new hospital in Prince Albert. That's fine and dandy. The government says North Battleford is higher on the priority list than Estevan, but if they don't have the money, they should wait a little longer.

If the province was thinking of putting a unit in Weyburn instead of Estevan, well, we have two million reasons why Estevan should have an MRI machine instead of Weyburn.

Other reasons to put it here? We have diagnostic imaging equipment here already, including a CT scanner.

And there would be more people in closer proximity to Estevan than Weyburn. There are now more people in the city of Weyburn than the city of Estevan, but when you get into the surrounding areas, there are a lot more people. Even Carlyle is closer to Estevan than Weyburn.

Having an MRI in your community should not just be for those in the major centres. Because the province decided to put an MRI in Moose Jaw rather than Swift Current, there are a lot of people in southern Saskatchewan who have to drive at least 300 kilometres to get an MRI.

If nothing else, the news of Ms. Walkom's proposed donation has given the effort to bring an MRI unit to Estevan some real momentum. I've heard talk of it in the past, but it subsided publicly in the past few years. We've been preoccupied with other matters, like physician and nurse shortages, the COVID-19 pandemic and getting that new nursing home built, you know, the one that we had the money for since 2015.

If we do get this, it's going to take time. Remember the wait for a renal dialysis unit? The government announced in September 2000 – shortly after I moved here – that the dialysis unit was moving forward for Estevan. It wasn't operating until the fall of 2007.

Remember how we landed a CT scanner? St. Joseph's Hospital had to commit to buying the scanner and operating it for a year. And it took an extended negotiating period before the announcement was made in June 2014.

For those who genuinely need an MRI in the southeast, this waiting game is going to be painful. 

The letter sent by former health minister Paul Merriman to Ms. Walkom was a tone-deaf move. He suggested a donation to other needs at the hospital. He believes that the $2 million could be spent elsewhere.

This MRI is a legacy project in honour of her late husband Grant. It's her way of saying thank you to the community for all of the support shown for the family's oilfield business, Hank's Maintenance, over the years.

It seems like it's going to be an MRI or bust. And when you consider it's her money, she has every right to take that stance.

(The Walkoms have also donated previously to the hospital, the new nursing home, EMS and numerous other causes in the community). 

It would have been far smarter for Merriman to take the high road and say they'd take her donation under advisement.

Hopefully one day we'll get the MRI machine that southeast Saskatchewan needs and deserves.

And when we do, we'll all owe Elaine Walkom and her family a resounding thank you.