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MRI project for St. Joseph's Hospital in Estevan receives green light

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The Government of Saskatchewan has given the “green light” to establish MRI services in Estevan. The decision comes after the province turned down a multi-million dollar private donation intended for the service late last year.

Elaine Walkom made a $2 million donation in September of 2023 — hoping the funds would be used to purchase an MRI machine for St. Joseph’s Hospital.

She told CTV News at the time she was blown away by a letter from then-Health Minister Paul Merriman saying there were “no immediate plans to expand MRI services” in Estevan.

The province has since changed its mind.

“What has happened is we have given the green light for that project to proceed,” Health Minister Everett Hindley told reporters Monday.

After conferring with local government and health officials — Hindley said the decision was made clear.

“We took a look at that particular community, the catchment area that it serves, the number of people that are on a waiting list in southeast Saskatchewan and here we had an opportunity to move forward on something that's a bit unique. So we're taking that opportunity to do so,” he said.

“The donation helped start that conversation and has led to where we are here today.”

NDP Critic for Rural and Remote Health Jared Clarke said the government lost valuable months in dealing with wait-times due to its handling of the situation.

“The Sask. Party had dragged their feet on this. This should have been a no brainer,” he said.

“Here is an opportunity to get an MRI in an area of this province that is underserviced. Folks who live in the Estevan region area have to drive to Regina to get care. This is again an opportunity to provide health care when and where people need it.”

Hindley defended the government’s reluctance to act right away — referring to the need for local outreach.

“These machines don’t last forever either. Sometimes they need to be replaced in 10 or 12 years. We want to ensure that we're thinking for the long term [such as] who pays for that,” he said.

“It does require us to look at what is the existing criteria. How do we adapt so that we can accept these sorts of things to make sure that it's a benefit for everyone.”

Operational funding for the proposed MRI was not included in Saskatchewan’s latest budget, as the facilities will not be in service this fiscal year.

Hindley said details surrounding the project will be worked out in the coming months.

Current plans to expand MRI capacity in Saskatchewan include mobile MRIs being deployed in Regina and MRI facilities in the planned renovations of Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert.

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