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Column: Lots of work remains for MRI to happen

An opinion piece on the Estevan MRI project.
Patient entering Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner

The effort to bring an MRI unit to St. Joseph's Hospital in Estevan has been top of mind for a lot of people for nearly three months, ever since the Ministry of Health's denial of a $2 million donation to bring such a machine here became public.

A business plan shows it will cost nearly $6.3 million to bring the MRI scanner to Estevan. The cost covers not just the unit itself, but the expense to renovate and expand the hospital's diagnostic imaging area and bring in the needed staff.

The St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation has committed to raise the funds, saying it would begin fundraising once the MRI is included in the provincial budget. The business plan also needs to be approved by the hospital's board and the Emmanuel Health Board before it can be sent to the provincial government for consideration in the 2024-25 budget.

It certainly helps that the quest to bring the MRI to Estevan has a $2 million head start, as Elaine Walkom pledged that amount as a legacy project to honour her late husband Grant, and to thank the community for their support of the family oilfield business, Hank's Maintenance, over the years.

I'm sure this campaign will receive lots of support, not just from people in and around Estevan, but from people throughout the southeast, because it will benefit so many. People in Carnduff and further east won't have to travel at least three hours to get to an appointment in Regina. Those in Stoughton can travel 30 minutes instead of 90; those in Carlyle will have a one-hour journey instead of two.

And it would also remove a lot of strain on the wait list for MRI services in Saskatchewan. Want to lower the eight-month wait? An MRI in Estevan would help. There would be a big trickle-down effect. You likely wouldn't have as many people having to wait two years for an MRI. 

The presence of Corey Miller as the head of Emmanuel Health is a bonus. He's been involved with diagnostic imaging for the Saskatchewan Health Authority in the past. He knows what needs to be included when submitting a bid to the Ministry of Health for an MRI scanner. 

The Ministry of Health's decision to deny Walkom's request was a major blunder. They could have explained to her what needs to be done for an MRI to come here. Instead, they took two months to respond and said no. Maybe they thought Walkom and her supporters would remain silent. Regardless, the mistake blew up in their face when she went public.

It would be absurd not to include the Estevan MRI project in the 2024-25 provincial budget, since nearly a third of the money is already in place, and we have a community that has shown an ability to fundraise for big projects in the past.

The campaign, once it's approved, won't be quick or easy. It's still a $4.5 million ask. And we aren't in a boom cycle in the local economy.

And they're going to be doing it at a time in which the committee is trying to bring a new regional nursing home to Estevan and is going to be restarting its fundraising because the provincial government's needs assessment shows that a new nursing home is going to have to be a lot bigger than expected, so the 20 per cent of the projected cost is going to be a lot higher. (It should be noted that work on the new nursing home can proceed while the nursing home committee is fundraising.)

The money for a new nursing home in Estevan was successfully raised nearly nine years ago. This project is also long overdue. The current facility has a lot of caring and dedicated employees, but the building itself is obsolete and needs to be replaced. The current and future residents of the current nursing home deserve better.

And we really need an MRI scanner in Estevan. We can have both. But it will cost money and there will be challenges to have two large campaigns for health care happening simultaneously.

Thankfully, the people of southeast Saskatchewan have proven to be very generous time after time. They'll live up to that reputation again.