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Province gives the green light for MRI fundraising in Estevan

The St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation has committed to fundraise the full $6.5 million for the project, with a $2 million head start courtesy of Elaine Walkom.
St. Joseph's Hospital
St. Joseph's Hospital.

ESTEVAN - While there isn't any money in the 2024-25 provincial budget for an MRI scanner at St. Joseph's Hospital in Estevan, the project has received the green light to proceed.

In an interview with the Mercury and SaskToday, Estevan MLA Lori Carr said the provincial government has given its commitment to St. Joseph’s Hospital, through Emmanuel Health, to move forward with the proposal to install an MRI scanner. Once the machine is in place, the government has also committed to provide the ongoing operational funding required to operate an MRI scanner.

"I am very grateful for the generosity and support that we have received from communities and individuals. A special thank you to Elaine Walkom for the $2 million she is putting towards this project, and for her advocacy. The generosity of the people and communities in the southeast never ceases to amaze me," said Carr. 

"This is really good news for Estevan and all of southeast Saskatchewan. What this means is people will not have to travel to Regina or Saskatoon to receive an MRI. It means that wait times will be reduced. It also means that the people of southeast Saskatchewan will have one more set of services at their disposal."

It was revealed last fall that Walkom had offered to donate $2 million for the purchase of the MRI scanner and the training of two technicians, but the donation was rejected by the Ministry of Health, igniting criticism across the province. Walkom wanted to make the donation as a way to say thank you to the people of the Estevan area for the support they have shown to her family over the years.

Since that time, multiple meetings have been held, and last fall the St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation committed to fundraise the full $6.5 million for the project, including the $2 million head start courtesy of Walkom.

The hospital foundation was waiting for the green light from the province before it could start with the fundraising.

The MRI is to be located in the diagnostic imaging area of the hospital, which also houses the CT scanner and the lab, among other services. Carr stressed that as part of the project, the building needs to be renovated, the MRI needs to be ordered, and the staff has to be recruited and trained.

Corey Miller, the president and CEO for Emmanuel Health, said they were "relieved" to find out the government was planning to move forward with the project. 

"We've put a lot of effort into building the full, comprehensive operational plan, including the capital equipment, the start-up costs, all of the staffing readiness, all of the work that has gone into it. We were pleased to see the government has confidence in partnering with us and the community of Estevan in moving this project forward," said Miller. 

Funding will be needed at different stages, and not just at the backend, he said. 

"We will partner with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and their purchasing process, which they do twice a year where they buy all of their medical imaging equipment. We partner with them so we can use their expertise, but as well get the synergies of bulk buying," said Miller.

"If they're going to be buying x-ray equipment, CT scanners, ultrasounds and maybe even an MRI, they sign multi-year contracts and we would like to get that pricing to try to help keep our project costs down."

Earlier this spring, there was a meeting with municipalities to give them an update on the project so that everyone would be aware of its status.

Miller said it will be important to work with partners at the St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation to meet the fundraising goal, and there will be meetings with the Saskatchewan Health Authority to let them know the hospital will want to be part of the requests for proposals. 

"We'll have to start our own procurement process on the project around the modular MRI system, which will be an add-on to our building, to better understand what our site requirements are. I think it's scoping the project in detail, and we will need a local project lead on this, and that's part of the next steps for moving this project forward," Miller said. 

He is "cautiously confident" the project can be completed for the $6.5 million. Contingencies are in place for the budget, but costs have gone up for construction, labour and equipment. They will work closely with SHA to keep costs within the expected amount. 

St. Joseph's Hospital executive director Candace Kopec said they were "thrilled" when they were told an MRI service would be available closer to home for people in the southeast, and that it could reduce wait times. 

"We've been waiting to move forward, and so now we'll get started, but we've been at a standstill, waiting to hear what the decision was going to be," said Kopec.

The hospital will continue to work with the Government of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Health Authority to determine the next steps on procurement and other details.

Miller's experience was also a big asset, she said, thanks to his time working in medical imaging and nuclear medicine for the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

"You couldn't be in better hands than having Corey Miller take the lead of this project," said Kopec. 

The government has committed to the operational funding for the MRI system once it is in place, Miller said.