Collingwood General and Marine Hospital will be getting provincial funding to open an MRI lab.
Ontario's health minister, Sylvia Jones, was at the hospital today (Dec. 12) to make the announcement to a group of local politicians and hospital staff and leadership.
"This funding will provide closer and more convenient access to diagnostic imaging for local patients," said Jones. "I don't need to tell the healthcare professionals in the room what it means to have access to that information here so that you don't have patients travelling."
The local hospital submitted a pitch to the province asking for operational funding for a magnetic resonance imaging lab (MRI) in January 2022, when the province announced it was looking for interest and would fund 15 more labs in Ontario.
The nearest MRI labs to Collingwood are Barrie, Owen Sound, and Orillia.
Michael Lacroix, president and CEO of Collingwood General and Marine Hospital stood alongside Jones and Simcoe-Grey MPP Brian Saunderson for the announcement.
"Today's announcement for an MRI service at our local hospital will result in local access to what is widely considered the gold standard of diagnostic imaging," said Lacroix. "Having an MRI scanner located here ... will enable us to do our part to reduce MRI wait times across our region and across the province while reducing the travel burden on patients and their caregivers."
This will be a new service offered at the Collingwood hospital in future, as currently, the local hospital does not have an MRI machine.
According to a news release from Collingwood General and Marine Hospital, patients from South Georgian Bay region require about 5,500 MRI scans annually, currently achieved in various areas throughout the province. Most patients wait more than two months for an outpatient MRI scan.
While the provincial funding announcement today will provide the operational costs of running the lab, the actual MRI machine will have to be purchased by the hospital. The Collingwood General and Marine Hospital Foundation will be tasked with raising the millions of dollars required to buy a machine and renovate a space in the current hospital building to accommodate an MRI lab.
Jones said the operational funding would be made available to Collingwood when the lab and machine are ready to go.
Jory Pritchard-Kerr, president and CEO of the Collingwood Hospital Foundation, said the foundation doesn't have a cost estimate yet for the renovations or the machine, but anticipates the foundation will need to raise somewhere in the range of $5 million.
The foundation is finishing up a current campaign to replace the hospital's CT Scanner, which Pritchard-Kerr said is nearly complete.
For the MRI campaign, she said there are already donors who have expressed interest in donating should the province approve the operational funding.
"I have some calls to make," said Pritchard-Kerr following Jones' announcement. "I would say, first of all, we need to get the information about what the cost is going to be and where we're going to put it in this cramped building."
She said it's difficult to find space in the existing building to re-purpose for new labs. The foundation raised money two years ago for a nuclear medicine camera, which is often used for cancer staging and follow-up. Pritchard-Kerr said work is still being done through engineering drawings to find a place for the new camera.
"Is there a plan where we can put nuclear, CT and MRI altogether in a temporary building? We don't know yet," said "That's all the work that's going to have to happen over the next couple of months."
According to Ontario Health data collected in November 2021, the average wait time for the lowest-priority patients is about 65 days. The target for this priority level is 28 days.
Mid-priority patients waited an average of 20 days, the target is 10 days.
High priority and emergency patients were receiving MRIs within the target time (two days for high-priority, and immediately for emergencies).
According to the Canadian Medical Imaging Inventory, there were 124 MRI units in operation in Ontario in 2019/2020, which includes public and privately funded units.
Jones announcement also included provincial support to operate a total of 27 new MRI machines in hospitals across Ontario for a total of $20 million in operational funding.