East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook. Google maps photo

New MRI unit increases access

Interior Health aims for 5100 exams in Cranbrook this year

One year after the announcement of a new MRI unit in Cranbrook, Interior Health says access for patients has tripled.

The Free Press previously reported that patients in the Elk Valley in need of an MRI scan were waiting an average of 43 weeks.

Interior Health explained that this new $5.3 million scanner, which became operational in the summer of 2018, is the health authority’s biggest yet.

The new permanent installation replaced a mobile MRI unit that travelled to the East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook for a week, every month.

It came after a push to reduce medical wait times, with the B.C. Government committing an extra $11 million in March 2018 to increase the number of MRI exams carried out across the province.

At the time, Interior Health anticipated that the new unit in Cranbrook would double the number of possible tests to approximately 3000 per year. Prior to the new unit, they were accommodating 1300 patients per year. This rose to 4000 visits after the MRI became operational.

Interior Health explained that their aim for the next full year is 5100 exams.

“MRIs are scheduled by priority,” explained Scott Edmonstone, EK Health Services Director, Medical Imaging.

“The highest priority is immediate, the second is an appointment within two work weeks and the third is an appointment within a month. We are meeting our targets in all categories.”

Interior Health contributed $2.21 million to the MRI project, while the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District chipped in $2.14 million.

The East Kootenay Foundation for Health donated $650,000, which included $100,000 from the Kimberley Health Care Auxiliary, $50,000 from the Invermere Health Care Auxiliary, $25,000 from the Elk Valley Foundation and $100,000 from the Fostering the Future Foundation.

The remaining $650,000 came from the Cranbrook Health Care Auxiliary.

Next, Interior Health plans to expand ultrasound services into the Elk Valley, so that residents no longer have to travel to Cranbrook for detailed scans.

This comes after a provincial moratorium was placed on ultrasound expansions in 2017 due to a shortage of sonographers, but applications for exceptions can be made.

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