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VIHA cancels planned portable MRI for CDH

A mobile MRI unit will not be making its way to Cowichan any time soon.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority announced Thursday it is not moving forward with the mobile magnetic resonance imaging device that would have serviced Cowichan, Comox and Campbell River hospitals.

Cost is VIHA’s main concern.

A request for proposals issued in April returned six proposals, in which VIHA learned an external unit would cost more than $600 per MRI scan.

The cost per MRI scan at a fixed site is approximately $250.

But Cowichan Valley MLA Bill Routley called VIHA’s reasoning “patently ridiculous.”

“They knew it was expensive to have a mobile unit — the issue was being able to assist Comox, Campbell River and the Cowichan Valley,” he said.

As it stands, Cowichanians have to travel to either Nanaimo or Victoria for scans.

This, Routley said, is detrimental to health services in the valley — local patients are required to travel out of town for the care they require, and it’ll be more difficult to attract and retain qualified health professionals.

Cowichan District Hospital’s medical staff chief, Dr. Len Roy, explained.

“Young radiologists need to read and interpret MRIs on a regular basis to maintain their accreditation and standing, and if we don’t have an MRI unit available here for them to read and interpret, they’re not going to come here,” he said. “Indeed, some of the younger ones may leave if we don’t get an MRI here.”

VIHA’s Alice Gelpke agreed the matter will have to be addressed.

“Radiologists require a certain number of MRI reads per year, so with that in mind we now need to follow up with our medical director of radiology to look at solutions to that issue,” she said.

“We do recognize that the downside to the decision is that patients will need to continue to travel to Nanaimo or Victoria, but really the cost between mobile versus fixed scanner was just too great with our current resources,” Gelpke added. “It boils down to: do we do fewer scans for more money, or as many scans as possible?”

But Routley’s worried about what VIHA’s decision will mean for Cowichanians.

“Hospitals have to have up-to-date technology or they’re not going to attract technical specialists to the area, and the whole hospital becomes threatened,” he said. “It’ll be on life support itself.”

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