MRI goes to Gander

Decision shouldn't pit town against town, minister says

Sue Hickey shickey@advertisernl.ca
Published on June 8, 2009
MRI goes to Gander

The question of which central Newfoundland town would play host to the coveted MRI site should not have been the equivalent of the Cold War, according to provincial Health Minister Ross Wiseman.

"This is not part about being successful and someone not being successful, or about one town losing and the other town winning," he said June 2 after the announcement of a consultants' study.

Grand Falls-Windsor -

The question of which central Newfoundland town would play host to the coveted MRI site should not have been the equivalent of the Cold War, according to provincial Health Minister Ross Wiseman.

"This is not part about being successful and someone not being successful, or about one town losing and the other town winning," he said June 2 after the announcement of a consultants' study.

The independent report examined Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor as possible sites for a magnetic resonance imaging unit (MRI). It determined that the airport town would be the best home for the machine.

"What would be unfortunate here, if some parts of the region see it as a win and others see it as a loss," said the minister. "But this is a win-win situation for central Newfoundland.

"The reality of this is it's a good announcement for central Newfoundland, no matter where you live in central Newfoundland. The MRI is going to be a major enhancement to the diagnostic services currently available in the entire region. "

There are three MRI units in the province: two in St. John's and one in Corner Brook. The wait list for them can be up to a year and for many patients, the drive to go to an appointment can be several hours each way.

Each town, which serves a significant rural population in the area, had been campaigning for the MRI machine since plans for it were announced in the 2008 provincial budget.

The consultants for the independent study included a radiologist with experience in MRI services.

"We've taken the report as it is and haven't made any changes to it," said Wiseman. "We accepted the recommendations as they were.

"I, as the minister, wouldn't have the expertise to determine where it should be located and we needed someone that understood MRI services, had experience in a jurisdiction where MRI services are located in various parts of a region.

"The radiologist understands what kind of applications there are, who uses MRI services and for what kinds of disorders and what kind of physicians use MRIs. That's why we chose the group that we did."

Considered opinion

The consultants included radiologist Dr. Charles Lo, Jane Mealey, a registered nurse and a health-care executive leader and consultant, and Richard Nurse, a health-care consultant and former CEO of the IWK children's hospital in Halifax.

In the study, the consultants considered factors such as access in terms of what population is closer to Grand Falls-Windsor, what populations are closer to Gander, Wiseman said.

"The other one was in terms of the utilization of the service, what clinical services. For example, orthopedics is one of the biggest users of MRI services, and the consultants give consideration to what types of patients use MRI, whether they're patients referred by orthopedic surgeons or by neurologists, or general surgeons, what type of people tend to refer patients to MRI services and what kind of clinical service would be the biggest user."

The consultants also looked at the ability of buildings to accommodate the unit - both communities had the space, Wiseman said - and the radiologist and technologists available.

The existence of the international airport at Gander wasn't a factor, the minister added.

"They didn't say it wouldn't work in Grand Falls-Windsor. The recommendation, on balance in considering the factors, was Gander," he said. "They identified that each location has merit. But in balancing it all together, the recommendation was Gander."

Some groups in Grand Falls-Windsor were disappointed with the news the MRI unit was going to Gander.

The Exploits Regional Chamber of Commerce, in a news release, stated it was pleased Wiseman finally announced the location of the MRI for central but was "really disappointed that Grand Falls-Windsor was not selected as the site to house the equipment."

President Al Hawkins said the chamber wants to know the determining factors, including access and demand, used in the decision. "The chamber finds it very difficult to understand this decision when Grand Falls-Windsor is by far the largest centre in central Newfoundland," he said in the release.

Wiseman had the study in his possession since February. He justified the delay, saying he had to have officials review it, to see whether the assumptions made were valid, whether some of the data used was valid and to take it to cabinet.

"This was a time of the year when we had a lot of items on our agenda," he said. "I took it to cabinet last week."